The upcoming vote on Senate Bill #4 this Wednesday will determine whether the idea of an evidence-based, primary prevention program against sexual violence will be passed along to the Faculty Senate. I have heard a lot of discussions surrounding the proposal, some offering alternative solutions, others resigned to the perceived inevitability of sexual assault. Very little of the discussion I have heard has considered the potential impact for victims of sexual violence.
Yes, Rice has resources available for victims to help cope with sexual violence. We have counselors and Rice Health Advisors. You can go to your college’s adult team for help. However, none of these resources stop sexual assault from happening in the first place, and whenever I hear people questioning whether or not even the idea of a primary prevention program should be passed along to the Faculty Senate, I am deeply unsettled. The proposed curriculum has not even been designed yet, and a portion of our community seems dead set on shutting it down. Even if the program stops only one person from having their life preventably changed, the class will be worth it.
Sexual violence is allowed by cultural norms that question the validity of victims’ claims, norms that assume all men want sex, men can’t be victims, consent is implied and that consent does not need to be attained. We have an opportunity to change Rice into a culture that supports victims, allows them to feel safe when making a claim and does not excuse people who maliciously commit acts of sexual violence. I am most concerned with the many people who commit sexual assault without understanding the implications of what they are doing. These are, I believe, the people whom a sexual assault prevention program could target with the greatest impact. I have been sexually assaulted and the psychological tolls are heavy. I am comfortable, though, with the knowledge that, if my assailant had been through a course like the one proposed, or felt they would face any repercussions, it might never have happened.
Saying we should make punishment more severe for perpetrators puts impetus on victims to press charges, rather than establishing a community agreement that sexual violence is unacceptable in the first place. Providing resources to cope with sexual assault is great, but it does not stop it from happening in the first place. We should be addressing the primary causes of sexual assault, but so much of the discussion surrounding the bill so far has reflected superficial solutions that would not stop assault from happening in the first place.
The Survey of Unwanted Sexual Experiences gave us a glimpse at the huge impact of sexual assault on campus and SB#4 proposes a logical step forward. I have never felt so invalidated as when hearing fellow students say it would inconvenience new students to spend an hour every week considering the impact of sexual violence and learning to critically challenge the norms that allow it. These comments remind me of every time I hear a rape joke go unchallenged and laughed at, and reminds me exactly why I never pressed charges. The responses to SB#4 are exactly why victims of sexual violence don’t feel comfortable coming forward and pressing charges.
It is our responsibility to approve SB#4 to ensure nobody’s personal sexual decisions are questioned or violated, and to create a safer environment for everyone. I encourage people to have opinions and concerns surrounding curriculum and logistics, but we should all be able to stand behind the idea and spirit of the class, which is what SB#4 is actually about.
Bridget Schilling is a Lovett college junior.