Of Fantasy Sluts and Real-Life Survivors
| November 16, 2012
In fighting sexual violence, says the author, school administrators need to be proactive and help the students themselves change the cultural environment.
For some years we’re told by media outlets in California, varsity athletes at Piedmont High School in Northern California have apparently "bonded" by creating “fantasy slut leagues” whereby student athletes earn points for sexual acts with unsuspecting girls in school. “Strange and anal sex” earned the highest scores.
When parents and administrators became aware of this practice, outrage followed, naturally, and some say prematurely, since several of the girls later claimed that they weren't victims at all, and that they hadn’t been pressured to perform sexual acts. In fact, it was said that some of the girls even had their own fantasy league scorecards.
We may not ever know how many of these acts were consensual, or what role bullying, social pressure or alcohol played – although this young reporter’s account seems particularly credible.
But one lesson we can take from the Piedmont scandal is that focusing exclusively on school administrator’s reactions after the fact is a backwards and wrong-headed way to fight sexual violence.
By now the Amherst College sexual assault scandals are well-known. They started with revelations by former student Angie Epifano about the school’s botched investigation of her reported rape, which she published in the campus newspaper.
Epifano has since become an inspiration to other Amherst students like Dana Bolger, who has also taken a public stand in revealing her own traumatic story. Bolger has been profiled in the New York Times and has encouraged other students to join her by publishing insensitive comments made by administrators and friends in response to sexual assaults.
Then, another bomb fell on Amherst early this month, when the suicide note of a former student named Trey Malone blamed administrators for an inept and hurtful investigation into his report of rape.
Malone, who killed himself in June of 2012, writes that upon hearing of his assault the then-college president responded, “Have you handled your drinking problem.”
“Please listen to what I said about sexual assault,” added Malone in closing his letter. “There are millions more just like me that need help and no, someone who is drunk cannot give consent, fuckers.”
By making such public calls for action, many students are forcing administrators and peers to sit up and pay attention to an issue that's all too often swept under the rug.
At least one in four women will be raped during their college years, and since rape is vastly under reported, this may be a low estimate. We also know that most college women know the men who rape them, and that 90 percent of reported college rapes involve alcohol. And while it is clear that campus leaders must do a better job in responding to accusations, real change, say anti-violence advocates, must come with prevention and education before the fact.
Because the hard truth is that both male and female students often do participate willingly in the cultural norms that support objectification and violence, especially against women. We may be seeing this now at Piedmont High, and we've certainly seen it in various fraternity, sorority, and athletic hazing rituals at colleges nationwide.
From the perspective of college administrators, however, and lawyers, police, and judges who are often terrified of false accusations (although these are relatively few and far between), a student’s voluntary participation in rituals like drinking, hazing, and sex as "prize" can often obscure what is more accurately the involuntary outcomes of bullying, coercion and outright physical force.
It's not right, of course. Women should be free to be "drafted" onto fantasy slut teams if they choose, and without fear of violence or violation. But they're not. Not yet. Certainly not in the society we live in today.
If nothing else, the scandals at Amherst and Boston (and maybe even Piedmont) have taught us that young people themselves are the best weapons we have in preventing sexual violence; because when activism among young people catches fire, administrators have no choice but to follow their lead.
In early 2012, a coalition of six activists at Boston University came together following allegations of sexual assaults by two members of the school’s hockey team.
Sarah Merriman, a feminist activist and founding member of the coalition, explained that she first got involved in the issue after her own rape freshman year, which was “not at all different,” she says, from what happens all the time on campuses nationwide.
“It was someone I knew,” she says. “I wasn’t drinking. But everyone else was.” Merriman worked together with Ariana Katz and three other student activists (one of them male) over several long nights, writing what became a 30-page proposal. They brought it to the BU president, Robert Brown, who eventually responded by implementing their requests almost “word for word,” says Merriman, and creating the Boston University Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center, which opened on campus this past September.
“It’s a great example of young people taking the lead,” said Casey Corcoran, program director at Futures Without Violence in Boston, calling BU a model university in its response to the coalition.
At Amherst, the situation may have been more extreme, says Merriman, in that survivors were “bullied into silence or ignored outright.” But both Amherst and BU are similar, she says, in that they “failed to see the scope of the issue.” For example, President Brown initially attempted to “deal with the problem on a smaller scope by assigning staff to an athletics task force.” They failed to recognize, says Merriman, that rape is a “rampant problem across campus, and across groups.”
The coalition also credits the media with helping them to create and sustain pressure. “We were very organized about it,” she says. “We had press releases and we responded when they called.”
As a result, the administration implemented every recommendation that they made, including mandatory training for student groups receiving university funding, and a full-time prevention coordinator to work at the new center.
“We asked for the world,” says Merriman, “and we got it.”
Still, after graduating in May of 2012, Merriman was disappointed to learn that the prevention coordinator that she helped to hire didn’t even know the names of former and current students involved in the coalition, and had not seen a copy of their proposal.
“The university is already trying to cover up that this movement was a student effort,” she says. “But it’s important that people know that this was normal [students] doing this stuff. And that you’re not powerless.”
“It’s easy to feel that way,” she added, “when you’re in a big school and you feel like no one is listening.”
(Story up-dated, 3:30 pm, November 17, 2012.)
The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.
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