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Staff Editorial: Sexual assaults and personal safety at Mills

A teal ribbon symbolizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month. (SAAM)
A teal ribbon symbolizes Sexual Assault Awareness Month. (SAAM)

In the wake of a recent sexual assault that occurred on campus, an email was sent to students providing tips for personal safety. The advice in the email caused the staff of The Campanil to question how student safety and assaults are handled on campus.

The Campanil felt that the content of the email leaned towards victim shaming; a large portion of the email was spent telling students what they should do to avoid being assaulted — don’t go out alone, call for a ride, or don’t bring home strangers. Many of us at The Campanil felt that these instructions implied that it is solely a person’s responsibility to protect themselves against sexual assault, and that if they are assaulted, it is because they did something wrong. What was more disappointing for our staff was that the email failed to mention that the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. The email students received seemed to explain how to avoid being assaulted in a dark alley but left us with questions: how does someone protect themselves from assault against someone they know? How can you know when someone you know — such as a friend, a partner, a classmate — could assault you?

After the email went out, an editor of The Campanil noted that she heard several students saying that if a student is assaulted by someone that they brought onto campus, they are responsible for the potential endangerment to themselves and others. While we understand the desire for safety and the uneasiness caused by not knowing who comes and goes on campus, we believe that this is an unfair statement. Sexual assault is often unpredictable and since many assaults are committed by someone that the victim knows, it is nearly impossible to know if the person you are bringing onto campus is a danger to yourself or others. It would be unreasonable to expect students to never bring someone onto campus. Still, campus residents do carry some responsibility — when you live in a residence hall, reckless decision-making does bear consequences for those who surround you and also call your hall home.

For the staff of The Campanil, the email also raised questions about who is or is not let onto campus by Public Safety. Many times, Public Safety simply waves cars through, as long as there is someone with them who appears to be female. Students have also stated that Public Safety seems to be biased in the way they operate the gate. For example, people of color appear to receive more questioning than others entering campus. Although many people feel that Public Safety is not fair nor careful in their screening process, our staff did note that they have been “cracking down” more recently, coning off the street at night and asking for IDs. The Campanil hopes that Public Safety will continue to become more careful and remain consistent in their screening, regardless of people’s appearance.

The Campanil also hopes that students will remain as safe as possible. We understand that there are many precautions that can be taken for one’s own personal safety, and to guard against sexual assault, but we would also like to make it clear that an assault is never the fault of the person being assaulted. One final question we have: should we, as a society, be teaching people how not to get assaulted, or teaching people not to assault others?