Dave Pinsonneault ’14
*Trigger warning: This piece talks about sexual assault, and blames men 100% for sexual assault committed by men to women.
There is a certain silence here on campus. It is a silence on the topic of rape and rape culture. Silence begets tolerance.
We all know what Providence College nightlife entails. Every student here knows you can walk down Eaton Street on a Friday or Saturday night and find a house party. Others might find a bar. Both are perfectly fine, even enjoyable, to do. But what often happens at a house party or bar? It is dark. There is music. There is dancing. Oftentimes, a man will go up to a girl, and begin dancing (disclaimer- it can be any person of any sexual orientation but I want to examine sexism evidenced by male/female interactions). There are no questions asked. No introductions have been made. The guy begins to sweet talk her. He might get her another drink or whisper something in her ear. After some time, the man will ask the girl to come back to his room.
If a sexual encounter is to occur, there is one rule that must be followed. Consent MUST be given before any sexual encounter, and this consent needs to be a hard yes. A sexual act that occurs without this vocal and emphatic consent is rape. The way a woman has dressed for the evening does not count as consent. Allowing a man to walk her home or give her a ride does not count as consent. And going to her room with a man or going to his does not count as consent. Assumptions should never be made about a woman’s willingness to participate in sex. Period.
Sometimes a man will try to ply a woman with a few drinks. He might try to wear her down with repetition or persuasion. He might shame her into submitting because he bought her something or gave her a ride or because he believes he has been led on. Other times a man might use force. It may be surprising for you to learn that these are all instances of rape.
It is surprising for many women to learn this as well. A woman who engages in sexual activity after consuming a lot of alcohol, or after being worn down, or after she feels she owes it to someone, might wake up the next morning feeling ashamed or angry. Or maybe just confused. She is unsure what exactly happened the previous night and why. Maybe she had too much to drink and she feels like what happened, though it makes her deeply uncomfortable and even ashamed, was partly her fault. The fact is, however, that someone who is intoxicated is not legally considered capable of giving consent. The woman has been taken advantage of. But if she does not know that she has been raped, why would she report it?
From 2009 to 2011, only four rapes were reported at Providence College, including incidents on and off campus. But these statistics belie what I see. Women are constantly objectified and degraded at PC. They tolerate men calling out inappropriate things to them when going out at night. This has been normalized, to some extent, on campus. Respect is not normalized at Providence College.
Instead, hook-up culture–scenarios like the one I describe above–is normalized. There is very little communication between people of opposite genders at social events. There is very little room for the vocal, emphatic YES that constitutes consent, and a whole lot of room for gray area situations to quickly blur into what is legally considered rape.
In fact, I would argue that a rape culture permeates Providence College. Men often go to parties with the intent of objectifying women. They want to take women home and they do not necessarily care whom. This has nothing to do with women not respecting themselves, and it has everything to do with men disrespecting women. In theory, women can also go to these social events objectifying men, and take advantage of them in a way that can also legally be considered rape. But the vast majority of disturbingly gray situations I have seen play out have men as the perpetrators. I think that this has a lot to do with these attitudes many men on campus seem to hold about women, which no doubt has a lot to do with how men are told by the media that their worth is linked to their sexual prowess.
There are competing views on how to teach sexual education. In the Catholic Church, there is no sex until marriage. We go to a Catholic school, and because of this there is no outlet (on campus) to learn about safe sex and about contraceptives. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the state will teach on and provide funding for safe sex. What is missing from both approaches? Nobody teaches consensual sex. This is what is missing in the conversation on sexual relations. There is a perception that consent means a violent no, rather than the opening dialogue to discuss this topic. This needs to be taught. It is something that can be utilized by both men and women. Consensual sex is something that needs to be taught and taken seriously. If there is no consent, there is no sex. This is something that is not quite understood on campus. As such, I understand that it can seem like there are many mixed messages surrounding sex. But it is not really an excuse. If no one is going to teach us how to give consent, we have to take it upon ourselves to learn.
The recent article in the Cowl discussing self-respect and the way women dress pushed me to write this response. Let’s be clear: nothing a woman does should convince men that she does not respect herself and should be treated worse because of it. Respect does not have to be earned, it should already be there.