The recent assaults on campus have inspired the usual stream of safety tips and praise for the bravery of the victims. As Alligator columnist Sally Greider pointed out, these statements from police, the public discourse about risky behavior, and the swift offerings of pepper spray and alarm key rings from retailers do virtually nothing.
Why? Because those who are determined to attack and assault women will do so no matter what precautions their victims take.
The safety tips are certainly helpful. However, a female student can carry an arsenal of preventive tools and still be assaulted if caught off guard.
In response, some might say, “Then always be on your guard!”
Ah, there’s the rub. Should women at UF have to live in constant fear of an assailant who might attack as we leave our evening class or run out to the store?
The women who screamed and fought back may have been brave, but law enforcement’s primary concern should not be the bravery of victims. It should be more concerned about an attacker whose arrogance is so great that he feels able to continually pursuing victims without being caught.
One of the most shameful aspects of modern American society is the pervasiveness of sexual assault. It is not simply the pastime of lonely, desperate men — otherwise all such men would engage in these behaviors.
Sexual assault is a violent act that reflects a higher level of structural inequality. This is worsened when authorities urge the community to emphasize the defense of women, while sidestepping the basic problem, which is the (male) attackers.
I shudder to think of what some might say if the attacker had succeeded in raping one of these women. “She was walking alone in a short skirt?” “She smiled and said hi to him?” “She did not fight hard enough, so he overpowered her?”
I once had to explain to an ex-boyfriend that I didn’t ask to be raped on my undergraduate campus. He still broke up with me because he saw me as a slut.
I have had to explain to friends that I didn’t report how abusive another boyfriend was because any amount of self-defense or involvement of authorities would have threatened my life. Fighting back is not a fix when the attacker will only attack again. This is a problem that affects females throughout Florida and the entire country.
The real fix is not arming people with pepper spray, safety apps and drug-detecting nail polish, but educating people that sexual assault and abuse are wrong, and that we are all at risk. I encourage law enforcement at UF and in Gainesville to focus less on the behavior of the victims and shift all focus to the perpetrator. The clear, unambiguous message must be: “If you attack another human being, you are a criminal. We will find you and punish you.”
Rachel Wayne is a UF visual and applied anthropology graduate student.
[A version of this story ran on page 7 on 9/10/2014 under the headline "Assault must be taken seriously with education"]