Editorial: A culture of silence


A sad reality of college life is that it’s all too common to know a victim of sexual assault.

An even more unfortunate realization is that statistics might only show a portion of the true number of assaults that occur. There are numerous occasions in which these incidents fly completely under the radar and are never brought to the attention of university officials. 

Recently, a student at Moravian College filed a lawsuit against the school for failing to take necessary action after she reported a sexual assault in 2016. The school’s lack of accountability could heighten victims’ unwillingness to report, scared they won’t be heard or their reports will be mishandled.

This could be why an alleged victim waited decades before coming forth with an allegation of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Perhaps she was worried there would be no action taken, prompting her to keep her silence.

Moravian, with a student body of just over 2,000, had 18 reports of rape over a three-year period. Lehigh, with a student population of over 7,000, has had just five reports of rape since 2015.

Given that many students know of cases that go unreported, Lehigh’s statistic seems low. Some might credit this lack of reporting to Lehigh’s ‘hook-up’ culture, in which a hyper-sexual atmosphere might create an illusion of normality for some cases of sexual assault.

Victims might be deterred from reporting simply based on the fact that the statistic seems so low — they might think no one is reporting, or that sexual assault doesn’t happen here.

It does.

They might feel discouraged to report because of Lehigh’s small size. On a campus where everyone knows each other in one way or another, victims might fear for their reputations because word travels fast.

Victims might also be confronted with more than the word-of-mouth. At a smaller school, they might encounter their aggressors more often than they would at a larger school, where it is easier to get lost in the crowd.

There are many factors that discourage victims from reporting cases of sexual assault. On top of social pressures, the reporting process is discouraged by its own bureaucratic nature. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that from 2005-2010, out of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police, 20 percent of victims feared retaliation and 13 percent of victims believed the police would not do anything to help.

Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has had to reveal her identity to the country. She has had to relive the frightening moments of her assault, and now she will have to relive those moments in front of the eyes of the country, including those of President Donald Trump who claimed in a tweet that Kavanaugh is a “fine man, with an impeccable reputation.”

Someone who is surrounded by a reasonable suspicion of sexual assault should never hold the office of a judge, where one is tasked with the responsibility of making ethical decisions and informing precedent. If Kavanaugh is found guilty, it would be a disaster to give him the power to make decisions that will impact our nation. 

We can only hope that those with the courage to speak up will encourage other victims to do the same.

The #MeToo movement is proof that there is progress, as many people, mostly women, are now willing to speak up against sexual assault. While there’s no way to know for sure, Ford’s decision to come forward may very well have been a result of the movement, giving the nation a platform to discuss issues of sexual assault.

There are platforms at Lehigh, too. On-campus organizations and entities such as Break The Silence and Gender Violence Education & Support provide resources to combat sexual assault and show that it’s OK to speak up.

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  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on


    The opinion column referenced above gives a different take on the “Kavanaugh affair”. I have not heard of other “Me Too’s” who have been attacked by Judge Kavanaugh. One must be sympathetic with the plight of a woman who has been sexually attacked. Having known such a woman, I would say healing is a personal journey in which the attacker need not be punished.

    This particular situation will have two losers Ms Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Ms. Ford will continue to suffer and Judge Kavanaugh, actually guilty or not guilty, and his family will be damaged. Democrats may win a political victory which seems to be the goal of the exercise. Ms. Ford may win a political victory but will not have peace. President Trump is what he is.

    • I’m puzzled why an attacker should not be punished. Surely someone who commits an act of violence upon another person should be punished under our legal system.

      Is there something about this kind of violence which excuses the perpetrator, Robert?

      • Robert F Davenport Jr on

        I’m not puzzled, I am adamant that an attacker be punished. I wish God would smite attackers, but he doesn’t work that way. We are left with laws and trials to determine if the presumed perpetrator is guilty. Unfortunately we have law but often not justice. It sucks but supposedly it is better than the alternatives.

        As a believer, justice will ultimately prevail and suffering can have bring about some good. My biggest concern would for healing of those who are wronged.

  2. It’s an interesting thing, Robert, but over the last ten or fifteen years I’ve been engaged in these conversations online, I’ve found that almost without exception, when there’s talk of sexual assault, a bunch of men start talking about punishment, as though that’s the important thing. Or revenge. I’ve known very few women for whom punishment or revenge is the focus. What they do want rather desperately is for the perps and all men like them to be *out of their lives*. Not in control of any part of their lives. Not in the position of being their bosses, or their judges, or their husbands, or the dude down the street who’s always watching from the window, or any of that. Just *gone from their lives*. What they want is freedom from these men — that is the peace they’re looking for.

    There was a twitter thread earlier today in which someone asked women what they would do if there was a curfew for all men after 9 pm. It was a startling thing. The most common answer was “go for a walk”. All these women came tumbling out with answers that had to do with having the liberty to go outside at night and just walk, run, lie on the grass and look at the stars, drive around, enjoy the night. Some women said they were shocked by how emotional they felt just thinking about the prospect.

    The point of locking up a rapist is not to punish the rapist or get revenge. It’s to keep other people safe from him. That’s why women report; that’s why they’re afraid and have terrible times psychologically when their rapist is released from prison. They report so that there’s a chance that it won’t happen to other women.

    Apart from the fact that it’s hardly a punishment not to get a SCOTUS seat — nobody is entitled to that — none of this business about Kavanaugh is about punishment, revenge, destroying a man, etc. When people insist that it must be, it’s because those are the terms in which they themselves think and operate.

    • Robert F Davenport Jr on

      Notwithstanding those with a diagnosable mental condition, a commentator on CBS this morning said Bill Cosby qualifies for that; I would say the expansion of the “Me population” is the cause of the current seeming explosion of rape. The fact that young males seem to lack a good bit of social awareness or are prone to ignore what they may correctly perceive doesn’t help the situation. For older males it seems as though power and wealth often lead to the feeling that everyone needs to submit to their desires. I classify for one of the four situations.

      There is a general lack of respect, not limited to males, in our country and seemingly not many role models for an improvement; I’ll put forward this years version of the Atlanta Braves as one.
      Respect, for others and self, needs to be taught in school as an antidote for bullying and to the thinking that controlling another person is a legitimate pursuit.

      The political aspect of the Kavanaugh case is not about punishment or “right” but to gain control. Personally I favored Trump’s second choice for this Supreme Court seat: 7/3/2018 – Amy Coney Barrett of Indiana, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 46. She previously clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. She was appointed by Trump and confirmed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in October 2017.

      She is a graduate of Notre Dame Law School.

      Barrett is reportedly one of four candidates who Trump interviewed on Monday. Popular among religious conservatives, she would be the fifth woman to serve on the Supreme Court.

      The link following describes the scenario for Kavanaugh’s nomination: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/22/opinion/…/brett-kavanaugh-burden-of-proof.html

  3. Amy Charles '89 on

    Robert, there’s not an explosion of rape.
    There’s an explosion of women coming forward to talk about rape and all manner of sexual abuse. We didn’t used to be allowed to do that. We used to get attacked much more savagely if we tried, and frankly we were much more alone and didn’t have nearly as much vocabulary for talking about it.

    None of this is new. The very young men are far more aware than the older men that this is actually not allowed, not okay, possibly a career-destroyer, and possible punishable with prison time. They’re also much more aware of how to talk about these things and what constitutes consent. Is there a subset that’s just volcanically angry about life and views women as “things to get and have”, and views consent as an obstacle to their gaining status, yes, and they’re a problem. But on the whole I find that young men are much more conversant in ideas about privilege, consent, and women’s status as people than older men are.

    Anti-bullying curricula have been taught in the schools for over a decade and they work.

    Barrett will not come up unless there’s another empty seat, but she’ll be a problem because she decided in favor of separate-but-equal, and this is not a white enough country anymore for that to go anywhere easily. She’s also part of some sort of Christian cult in which people swear loyalty to each other, and end of the day when the evangelicals say “Christian” they don’t really mean “Catholic”.

    Yesterday changed this country permanently. It does not seem to me that the old men running that show appreciated at all what kind of catalyst they’ve been, but because of yesterday the country will look very different 20 years from now — and not in the way they’re hoping. They’ve done more in a week than another 30 years of women’s-rights activism could’ve done on its own. Personally, I think it’s just about worth a Kavanaugh to get to that.

  4. amy charles '89 on

    Robert, Ross Douthat is more than a little sex-obsessed, and he’s not turning up as an intellectual champ of any stripe in these years. I think he’s out of his depth in the time. (I used to teach one of his “here’s what we must do in the age of, oh my god, Trump” essays shortly after he wrote it, but events took only a year to show just what a wishful man he is. No more heft to him than Friedman, either, even with all the dressing up in suits of armor. It was good for the students, though. They were able to see on their own that columnists, even fancy ones, really just conjecture and can have things flat wrong.) Anyway — not long ago he was out there tentatively advocating for men’s right to sex. The rest of the internet jumped in and supplied his missing words (sex with whom, Ross?), and beat him into a corner with them. Others suggested that maybe Ross was not the man to be speaking with authority on sex.

    This essay is more of the same. He’s complaining about stringent moralism surrounding consent: “stringent moralism” is what he calls “no, you can’t grab me unless I actually say you can.” I assume you’d like me to be that stringently moral when it comes to your bank account, your furniture, your dinner. I think women get to be accorded similar moralism when it comes to our own bodies. Ross does not. Ross wants very badly for men (and definitely only men) to be allowed to grab at women under the banner of “courtliness”, or, if that doesn’t work, “nature”.

    The essay’s a collection of tropes that have all died natural deaths over the last couple of decades, which is why he has to keep harking back to the 70s, 80s, 90s. He’s trying to resuscitate Christopher Lasch, who was giggleable-at in his “the world is falling apart with sin” finger-shaking even in the 80s, and — you know, there’s this weird Foxy thing going around about “libs” and Bill Clinton, and I wonder if these guys repeating it know that Bill Clinton hasn’t been anybody’s hero in decades. People were begging him to go home when he came out to campaign for Hillary. He was getting into fights with her supporters.

    Worse than that, though — and the most misogynist part of the piece — is the casual nod to the idea that women want the right to kill babies so that they can just go out there with their legs spread wide and slut it up and not pay. And that’s grotesque. There is no excuse at this point for not knowing that this is not and has never been the reason why women seek abortion rights.

    I’ll tell you what, Robert, I think he’s an awkward guy who’s jealous about how comfortable in their own skins people his own age generally are about their own sexuality, and that he’s actually deeply conflicted, wanting to join in but finding that too much of his own identity’s bound up in No. And besides he’d have to go in there and be all awkward. So he’s dragging an intellectual argument around to justify his stance. It’s just not a very good one, again because he’s got these old limp rags of argument he’s trying to knot together.

    I find in the end that the guys who yell loudest about consent and feminism are awkward guys who don’t know, and don’t want to admit they don’t know, how to talk with a woman about sex (or that it’s possible to learn), and who are wrapped up painfully tightly in the fear that if they can’t just grab a woman, they’ll never get one, and never get the nod from the universe as An Okay Guy. Because they still look at women as things to get and have, things that are crucial to their own status as men. In the end, that’s the thing they’re most genuinely concerned with. And that’s a men’s problem. You all need to stop treating each other so horribly, teaching each other that there’s some life-or-death ranking system and that the worst thing in the world, even worse than death, is to come out a loser. That one word, loser, does more damage to the world than anything else I know. And you need to help your awkward men friends without throwing women under the bus. Teach them how to talk and listen, how to bear embarrassment, to be patient with themselves, to forget about keeping score and just live. Teach them not to hate themselves. You can start by not despising them and not feeling better about yourself because you’re not them.

    One other thing — I’m hearing real confusion amongst older men in this discussion that goes on now about sex. I hear them talking out of the assumptions of the 1960s, 70s, even 80s, without any awareness of the conversations about sex that have gone on since, the way that relationships between men and women have changed, the way that ideas about gender have changed. And I’m hearing in their voices some awareness of confusion — they don’t understand how the conversation is going now and why their own words aren’t having the reaction they used to get — but instead of stopping to listen and understand, they’re just getting angry and trying to force their old conversation into something that’s been going on now for decades, is full of new concepts and vocabulary, and is long since done with those old ideas. It’s not working, and it can’t work. And there’s nothing smart about it, though it certainly is convincing young people that old men need to be shown the door posthaste.

    Things change. I seem to be saying this a lot to people lately, even to people my own age.

    As for equality and the ability to behave badly…um, yeah, that’s inherent in the word “equal”. People, as the song goes, are people.

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