Protecting Our Community: Keep Private Lives Private

In response to the opinion editorial, “Dear St. Mary’s We Need to Talk,” published in the last issue of The Point News, I would like to address the importance of protecting our community.  The writers of the editorial had admirable intentions in raising awareness about preventing sexual assault and stressing the importance of supporting our friends who have survived sexual assault.  However, in an attempt to protect potential victims, the protection of the survivors was compromised.

Now, while the editorial did not provide specific names of the survivors, it referenced an easily identifiable group of people on-campus, the Orientation Leaders.  This was a violation of discretion.  We live on a small campus; we are all neighbors, and we have seen everyone’s face at least once.  To point out any particular group, be it a sports team, a club, etc., would endanger its members’ privacy.  The survivors belonging to those groups could feel targeted because attention is being drawn in their direction.

When the survivors are targeted, this not only endangers their privacy, but also their well-being.  Sexual assault is something that may define one particular moment in the survivors’ lives, but it is a moment that affects the rest of their lives.  It is a traumatic experience, one that causes fear and distrust, and one that is haunting.  As with all traumatic, private experiences, this is one which can only comfortably be shared with those whom the survivors have chosen to trust because to retell the story puts them in a position to relive that moment.

Therefore, remember that any traumatic experience belongs to its owner and that story must not be divulged to anyone without their consent.  Should that person learn that his or her story has been shared without permission, this forces the person to relive that moment without emotional or mental preparation.  Reliving is not solely confined to a short flashback of that life-changing instance, but it can encompass triggered thoughts and feelings that the person then has to battle with yet again.

There are not only emotional and mental consequences of targeting a group in which a member has been sexually assaulted.  Survivors are put at risk for another attack by the assailant. If the survivors are targeted, so too are the assailants: if they fear that their victim has made open accusations against them, they may seek retribution.

So, I ask that when anyone wishes to raise awareness about sensitive topics that they please be aware of the potential harm they could be doing.  Please, only draw attention to the issue without drawing attention to the people.

Also, research the issue thoroughly in order to make sound factual claims.  The sample referenced in the editorial does not accurately represent the number of on-campus assaults.  Nor does it address the fact that males are also victimized by sexual assault and that women can also be sexual offenders.  There are no concrete gender role divisions in sexual assault.

As a disclaimer, I would like to add that I am by no means an expert on sexual assault or its consequences.  Should anyone wish to learn more about sexual assault on campus, or in general, please refer to one of the following:

  • The First Responders Network at 301-904-2015
  • Meghan Root, the Sexual Assault/Wellness Advocate at 240-895-4289
  • National Sexual Assault hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE

Sexual assault is a very serious subject that does need to be addressed.  St. Mary’s, be sensitive, be protective of your fellow students and friends.  Let us prevent future victimizations, and protect the survivors by keeping their stories close to our minds and hearts, but out of the public realm.

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