Wednesday, May 13, 2015

How Over-sensitivity Is Undermining Rape Advocacy

Let me preface this by saying I have the utmost respect and sympathy for rape survivors and other victims of sexual assault. I think we as a society do need to do a lot more to ensure justice for sexual assault victims, because way too many victims get their cases unheard.

However, stuff like this won't help. In fact, as Elizabeth Nolan Brown herself notes in a response piece for the Reason Foundation, it hurts.

On April 30, 2015, The Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper for Columbia University, an Ivy League school in New York City, ran an op-ed piece that detailed an account of a student who felt that passages in a poem- "Metamorphoses", by the Roman poet Ovid- "triggered" dangerous memories of an assault she suffered, and felt unsafe during the ensuing discussion of that poem. For the uninitiated, "Metamorphoses" recounts the kidnapping and rapes of Daphne and Persephone by the hands of Apollo and Hades, respectively (the latter being used as an explanation for spring and winter, since Persephone's mother, Demeter, the goddess of fertility, would agree to allow Hades to spend several months each year with Persephone, with Demeter's sadness during these passages causing her to stop plants from growing and the weather to get colder). According to The Spectator, the student felt "disengaged" from the discussion because, despite the fact that the passages caused her to relive her horrors, the professor decided to focus on the artistry behind the text, instead of focusing on the actual text itself. The student, according to The Spectator, didn't feel "safe" in the class and raised the issue with the professor afterwards, but was "dismissed" with her feelings "ignored" by the professor.

Now, I will grant I was not at the class, so I cannot verify what was said and whether or not the professor actually was dismissive of the student's concerns, and I will grant that the op-ed piece did raise some good points that some professors- many of whom are not actually educated in, well, "educating"- may need training in sensitivity. However, regardless of the context, it is apparent to me that the whole concept of "triggering" hasn't just gotten out of hand or has become counter-productive, it has become destructive to the very cause it seeks to solve- figuring out an end the rape problem.

First of all, it's very troubling that people can play the "victim card", silence their critics and essentially engage in censorship (as is what's happening here and what has happened to me in the past), stifling discussion that could be important in solving the problem. Because, let's face it- if we can't talk about sexual assault openly, how can we even begin to figure out how to solve the problem?

Moreover, where's the line where something is just "normal discourse" and where it becomes "triggering"? Rape can be committed by just about any instrument imaginable, so, in theory, just about *anything* can be a "trigger". For example, someone could be raped by something as innocuous as a pop can- do we get rid of all the Coke and Pepsi machines because they dispense items that are "triggering"?

More importantly, I can't understand how constant coddling and, frankly, "babying" victims of sexual assault helps in any way. By avoiding the problem- and not seeking a way to get past it- the victim is doing what the rapist intended, and that's get inside their head. I understand that a rape stays with someone for the rest of their lives- how can one get rid of that thought- but it's one thing to have it stuck in the corner of your brain and another to have it affect you in your daily life. The former is just a "bad memory", the latter tells the rapist they have won.

That is the heart of the matter. At the end of the day, advocacy groups seem to forget that rape is about power, not sex, and there's nothing more powerful than ensuring that the rapist has permanently entrenched themselves into a victim's cranium. Sure, the rapist might end up in jail, but they don't care- they're interested in the "hunt", and ensuring that they've devoured whatever life the victim had before. If something like that isn't enough to scare some sensibility into this nonsense, I don't know what is.