Common sense and victim blaming

People often make assumptions about the victims of sexual assault. The University of Alabama is one of an extensive number of schools in the United States that pride themselves on attracting a majority of out-of-state students. However, at the most crucial times in which this campus community proactively needs to channel acceptance, objectivity and understanding of our students, for the ultimate protection our students, we generally are left reacting to difficult events rather than preventing them.

Perhaps finding an answer that shifts the community towards more proactive ways to prevent sexual assault starts with unraveling the twisted concept of “common sense sexual assault safety.” With students arriving at college with differing degrees of experience, education and understanding of sexual assault, there is an incredible danger in placing a standard expectation on what students should already know “common sense wise” about living safely, and it is wrong to assume this "sense" is a perfect shield against the dangers of sexual assault. 

Despite the University’s efforts to create a more aware campus by requiring students to complete online sexual assault courses such as Haven, not all students will take it as seriously, and not all students will retain the same information. After a number of years at The University of Alabama, there is still no way of knowing which students have internalized the knowledge initially taught to them, and due to the stigmatization of having poor “common sense,” if you don't already know about sexual assault and consent, students neglect to ask questions in fear of judgement. This results in the community continuing to subtly heap judgement and blame on students who become victims of sexual assault because they lack or are viewed as not exhibiting “common sense.” 

Bystanders, including myself, subconsciously take the UA sexual assault alert emails with a grain of salt. The default thought process of many students is: "I am safe because I know never to be running alone at night. I am safe because I usually don't get gas alone in the dark. It’s 'common sense' to not do those things, but I feel bad for the victim."

The source behind this reactive sympathy must be evaluated on campus. Without a doubt, most of our peers feel a true hurt for victims and wish dearly that sexual attacks never happened to anyone, but the victims “riskier” choices to run at night, to invite a friend into their dorm after drinking or to stop after dark at a poorly lit gas station, never have nor should they be a reason to blame them for their assault or to subside our own fears, misconceptions, and disbeliefs surrounding such real and scary sexual attacks happening all around us. In a place where young adults constantly vie to prove their intelligence, students feed this underlying “survival of the fittest” mentality. The pressure to know it all and the expectation for peers to know it all about assault and consent, acts as the fuel for this commonly overlooked, yet profound, aspect of sexual assault victim blaming. 

Rather than following the narcissistic tendency of our community to digest the presence of sexual assault on campus by thinking about how they know better than the typical victim, it is time that we proactively digest these horrors in a new way. In a way that never blames victims, but instead embraces the fact that when it comes to sexual assault education, the only ignorance is assuming there is a “common sense” that somehow constitutes what an entire student body allegedly should understand and worse, that victims should be expected to use this "sense" to prevent their own assault.

Through raising awareness of sexual assault and consent and explaining the seriousness of sexual assault rather than just continuing to broadcast how they handle sexual assaults after their occurrence, The University of Alabama could see some much needed positive progress away from victim blaming. 

Regarding the discomfort caused by teaching Harvard Law School students about the horrors of sexual assault, a moving line from an article in The New Yorker reads, “This is, to say the least, a perverse and unintended side effect of the intense public attention given to sexual violence in recent years. If the topic of sexual assault were to leave the law-school classroom, it would be a tremendous loss—above all to victims of sexual assault.” 

With this notion in mind, The University of Alabama and schools across the country should embrace the personal discomfort it takes to continuously educate their student bodies. Temporary discomfort in the classroom could end up saving possible victims from the far worse permanent emotional and physical pain of being blamed for their own assault in the future.

Anna Scott Lovejoy is a sophomore majoring in general business and biology. Her column runs biweekly.

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