What have you done today to stop rape?

by By Sara

Maybe not much. But someone else took the time to write an article condemning those who have been making an effort.
This piece is a response to Kenneth Reily’s opinion piece printed in the May 8 edition of The Minnesota Daily, “U’s rape-free zone trivializes a serious issue.”
I realize that I could attempt an exhaustive dissection of what I consider a highly questionable article, but that would even further distract from the issue the Rape Free Zone sets out to address in the first place. Not to mention that I feel it would be a waste to spill out more energy than did the author of the original piece.
I actually agree with Reily’s viewpoint on two counts. I, too, can see that the name of the week could be problematic. “Rape Free Zone” is intended as an ideal, not an existent reality. To imply to the students of this campus that they will magically be safe from sexual assault this week is not only unrealistic, but a dangerous misinterpretation of our intention. We use this title to remind us of what we work toward, and we try to provide a more supportive environment for all who have been hurt, either directly or indirectly, by sexual violence. Through the programs we offer (see schedules posted around campus), we help bring information to the public to increase awareness of sexual assault, both to encourage personal safety measures and to define what “consent” is and is not. For example, “I’m so drunk” means “no” just as surely as shouting “No!” or putting a fist in an attacker’s face means “no.”
Reily writes that “no one should joke about rape.” I agree 100 percent. But, unfortunately, he does not adhere to his own advice by drawing ludicrous parallels between our events and his imagined view of them. He presents a “humorous” example of an anti-rape rally, where “women (and perhaps some men)” participate in such events as donning buttons with slogans of how they do not wish to be raped, “which they proudly wear for the rest of the day.” Later they attend a demonstration in which dolls are used to “demonstrate various forms of rape and sexual assault.” At another point, he suggests that “maybe the entire student population needs to be raped in order to understand (what it is liked to be victimized).”
Ha ha, Ken. But you missed the point of working to prevent further violence and offering counseling services for those who have been hurt (not to mention you demonstrate a lack of sympathy for the pain of other human beings). On campus, this is the Program Against Sexual Violence; the crisis line number is 626-1300.
Reily’s essay is a feeble and sophomoric attempt at irony, and letting this stand as the only statement to the public about Rape Free Zone is unacceptable. Part of our intentions for this week are not only to provide a forum in which to learn about the issue of sexual violence, but also to illustrate the magnitude of the rape problem we have in this country, and indeed at this university. I can offer a few statistics that Kenneth Reily did not include in his essay.
In 1994, the University documented 46 sexual assaults on campus. Over half of college men surveyed said they would commit acts that legally constitute rape if they thought they could get away with it. And not only are one in four girls sexually abused by the age of 18, but one in six boys will be sexually abused by the same age. Rape does not discriminate; this is everyone’s issue, and no one is completely safe until we all are.
Reily goes on to insert another “amusing” stab about how rapists wouldn’t truly look to the sidewalk when choosing their next victim (an allusion to the extensive chalking that has been done to advertise for Rape Free Zone and present statistics). With tactics like this in his loosely strung-together rant, he assumes that any anti-rape activity is targeting only rapists. The goal of Rape Free Zone is to educate the public in general and to inspire those who have either been too narrow-minded or uninformed in the past to act out against violence.
Reily says that the bottom line is an “obvious one, and perhaps even the easiest one to pursue,” proposing that we must teach our children respect for others. The only thing “easy” about his proposal is that it absolves him (and us) of taking any action now. I don’t feel safe walking alone at night even in well-lighted areas with my hand on my mace. Yet, he simply suggests that I wait to be allowed to move freely in the world until the next generation does a complete about-face, suddenly displaying total respect and supporting nonviolence? He accuses us of “diverting precious resources needed to pursue more effective methods of prevention.” We are still awaiting his presumably more insightful ideas, but are left with only this effusive and destructive article, taking up space in the University student’s most far-reaching forum, The Minnesota Daily.
There are difficulties within the grass-roots format of the Rape Free Zone. It happens shortly after Women’s Week, so all involved have slightly less energy. We have scant money for advertising, so we chalk up a storm. Only a handful of people are available to plan the programs. But this year has been more successful than last, and we hope next year will reach even more people than ever before. All who read this are invited to pitch in. Feminist and poet Adrienne Rich writes, “Where language and naming are power, silence is oppression, is violence.” Come to a Men Against Rape and Sexism meeting, get involved with University Young Women, find (or found) another group to participate in the fight against injustice of all kinds, take steps to protect yourself and those around you, write letters, picket, boycott, be militantly against rape and resist the culture which supports sexual violence by not acting against it. Only these actions can make the world a true rape-free zone. Call the Program Against Sexual Violence at 624-0607 for more information.

Sara Van Norman is a Rape Free Zonecollective member.