In college, I had a small collection of blue t-shirts with the words “It Affects Me” written on them. My fellow gauchos know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of you who missed out on attending the greatest school ever, though, are probably wondering why I would have such a self-centered wardrobe.
The “It Affects Me” campaign was put on my UCSB students each year to promote awareness and prevention of sexual assault my helping each other see that nobody is immune from it’s dangers. Yes, all women. And yes, all men. Rape and other forms of sexual aggression are serious problems at colleges in general, and the intense party culture of UCSB perhaps made us even more prone to it.
I love free t-shirts, I wanted to fit in with my feminist classmates, and I find sexual assault prevention to be a worthy cause, so I always made sure to get to the tables where they were distributed while they still had my size. I would scribble something on a huge piece of butcher paper, along with hundreds of other students, about why the issue of sexual assault affected me, and then lay claim to my prize- my blue t-shirt.
I don’t remember what I scribbled.
I may have made something up.
I just really like free shirts.
I was never sexually assaulted in college (or ever, really). No one ever tried to slip a drug in my drink. I was never grabbed at a party. I never had anyone make false assumptions about my sexual willingness. I was never called a “slut” or other shaming word because I did or did not have sex.
I also never went to parties. I never drank (not once), got high (not once), exposed my midriff, thighs, or cleavage (not once), and I never “hooked up” with someone I had just met (not once).
I had the same small group of friends throughout college. We stayed up late, we had fun, we were less than responsible. But we had an understanding that we didn’t have sex with each other. None of us were going to do that, or do anything like that. We went to DP for the famed Halloween celebration, but we (the girls) wore normal clothes instead of the typical barely-there naughty nurse costume.
For me, in college, sexual assault was not really an issue. Now, it was an issue in the sense that getting mugged is an issue- meaning that, of course, it is always a possibility. But it wasn’t something I thought about, it wasn’t something that I was afraid of, and it wasn’t something that, honestly, was likely to happen to me.
Now I am going to need to say this at some point, so I may as well say it now: I am in no way implying that when a woman (or man, or child) is sexually assaulted that they are in any way “asking for it”. The victim of sexual violence is never responsible. Not even a little bit. Even if she is wearing tiny shorts and walks by real slow and bends over right in front of you and calls you “baby” and talks about how she likes to have sex, she still isn’t asking for it.
So no, when one is sexually assaulted they are not responsible, but it is wrong to act like we have no control over the likelihood of such an event taking place. There are things that we can do to greatly decrease the chances.
Like not drinking alcohol or using drugs, not going to huge parties, not making out with people when you first meet them, and, as much as it pains me to say this, not dressing in a revealing manner.
Now I know that you are probably having one of two responses to that last sentence. One of which is, “You can get raped when you are fully clothed and sober by someone you know well in the middle of the day in the library!” True, you can. And sadly, people do become victims of sexual violence in situations very similar to this one. But how many people get date raped at 1 in the afternoon, as opposed to 1 in the morning? How many people get assaulted going bowling, as opposed to at a frat party?
The second one is, “But women should be allowed to wear what they want, drink what they want, and go where they want without fear of someone hurting them.” Yes, they should be able to. I wish they could. But as the world stands today, not all situations are equally safe.
I know that the idea of not being sexually active, not drinking, not partying, and not dressing in a revealing way in one’s college years probably seems foreign to most people, since these things in large part define the culture of college. But I know that the way I lived in college protected me. We are not powerless in protecting ourselves- whether or not we become a victim is not just a matter of chance. Fearing sexual assault on a regular basis does not have to be part of a person’s college experience.
Now, if I had lived differently and had gotten raped, it would not have been my fault. Also, I am not claiming any kind of moral high ground. I am also not claiming that I was less deserving of sexual assault than any other- we are all equally non-deserving of such an occurrence.
So I’m not talking about deservingness, I’m talking about power, and I’m talking about protection.