While I was teaching an exercise about paraphrasing in research papers today, I came across this quote from Adrienne Rich in her essay Taking Women Students Seriously:
"The undermining of self, of a woman’s sense of her right to occupy space and walk freely in the world, is deeply relevant to education. The capacity to think independently, to take intellectual risks, to assert ourselves mentally, is inseparable from our physical way of being in the world, our feelings of personal integrity. If it is dangerous for me to walk home late of an evening from the library, because I am a woman and can be raped, how self-possessed, how exuberant can I feel as I sit working in that library? how much of my working energy is drained by the subliminal knowledge that, as a woman, I test my physical right to exist each time I go out alone? Of this knowledge, Susan Griffin has written: ‘…more than rape itself, the fear of rape permeates our lives. And what does one do from day to day, with this experience, which says, without words and directly to the heart, your existence, your experience, may end at any moment. “
I certainly don’t mean to suggest that only women can be sexually assaulted, but outside of very specific contexts, women are far more likely to fear sexual assault in their daily lives than men.
One in five American women has either been raped or experienced attempted rape in her lifetime:
Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report.
Our university system and police must do a better job of making women feel safe. Safe to be in the community without fear of assault and safe in knowledge that if they report a crime, they will be treated with respect and care, not accusations.
The past few months in Missoula must become a call to action, for the community, the university, and the police to do more than deal with this as an isolated incident to be pushed from the front pages as soon as possible.