Letter: This Is Not Sex Positive

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault Survivors and Allies [survivors] welcome contact from survivors of all genders whose sexual assaults occurred in Grinnell or elsewhere. We want to hear your stories, include you in our activism, and give you any support we can.

The Scope of the Problem
The number of sexual assaults at Grinnell and the pervasiveness of coercive sexual practices is disgusting. Since I was sexually assaulted four weeks ago I have reached out to other survivors and talked with administrators to try to grasp the magnitude of the problem. I believe I have only scratched the surface, and I am horrified.

Sexual assault is notoriously under reported; the numbers we do have are too high. According to Steve Briscoe there were seven reports of sexual offenses at Grinnell College in 2011 and nine already in 2012. Sexual offenses include sexual assaults and other sexual misconduct such as harassment and fondling. These numbers only include incidents reported to Campus Security, so the actual number of incidents is significantly higher.

According to a 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Justice approximately 2.8% of women on a college campus may experience rape or attempted rape during the course of a single academic year, which does not include assaults which occur during school breaks (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner).

There are about 1600 students at Grinnell College and about 55% of them are female, so in any given academic year approximately 25 women experience rape or attempted rape at Grinnell if the Department of Justice estimates are correct. In four years, there will be approximately 100 rapes or attempted rapes on campus. Any given woman who attends Grinnell for four years has about a 10% chance of experiencing rape or attempted rape.

Grinnell’s Sex Culture and Rape Culture
When six survivors and I shared our stories of sexual assault, some common themes emerged. Based on our experiences, there is a hypermasculine sense of entitlement that most of our rapists embodied.

Our sexual assaults were not an aberration from Grinnell’s sex culture. They were an extension of it. The more we compared our experiences (both consensual and non-consensual), the clearer it became that a sense of pressure and disempowerment is more common than not.

We noticed a pattern throughout many of our sexual encounters of not being comfortable with some sex acts that our male partners wanted. It was rare for them to accept this and allow themselves to simply enjoy sex we could both agree to. Instead they often bargained, argued, pestered or coerced us into performing the sex acts or reluctantly accepted our limits. This is not sexy, and not sex positive.

Sexual assault is not a dramatic departure from Grinnell’s sex culture. It is the final step on this spectrum of bargaining, arguing, pestering, and coercing. I believe that it is the rare man who happily respects consent, although most do not cross the line into sexual assault.

For those who do cross that line and sexually assault their fellow students, they seem to think there are no consequences. Usually there are none.

Shameful Failure of Self-Governance
We do not believe that Grinnell College has put enough money, thought, or staff towards preventing sexual assault on campus, but we also recognize the administration as allies. Our anger is reserved for the men who sexually assaulted us, and we hope that you will channel your anger towards them as well. We do not blame the administration for the number of sexual assaults at Grinnell, but we do find their current efforts to prevent assaults totally inadequate.

The perpetuation of rape culture along with alcohol hospitalizations, and the casual destruction of campus property all represent shameful failures of self-governance.

If you don’t have the guts to intervene when you see someone kick over a trash can and walk away, what are the chances you will risk the social embarrassment of getting involved to make sure everything is okay when you see a man half carrying a barely conscious woman into her room?

If you are too afraid to confront your friend when he keeps drinking dangerous amounts, what are the chances you will be brave enough to support a survivor when she says your buddy raped her?

It is our responsibility as students to intervene when we see potentially abusive or coercive situations. We applaud organizations such as Real Men, Active Minds, Feminist Action Coalition, Campus Advocates, and AJust that have worked to raise awareness, support survivors, and prevent sexual assaults.

Supporting Survivors
There have been important efforts in recent years to streamline the reporting process and make sure survivors receive a consistently supportive message from administrators. But there are still lingering stories from before about survivors having unpleasant and retraumatizing experiences after approaching various staff members or trying to hold their attackers responsible.
Based on my experience and that of most of the survivors I know, the college administrators are compassionate, sensitive, supportive, and helpful.

Unfortunately, students remain in the dark about the available resources and who to approach. It should be common knowledge that the college takes sexual assault very seriously, which staff members are the best contacts, and that they are focused on the well-being of the survivor.

Inadequate Prevention
Despite the solid support for survivors, there are few effective policies to prevent assaults. Sexual assault is not a natural disaster. Nine Grinnell men decided to violate my friends and me. And we are not the only ones.

The college needs to take aggressive steps to make it crystal clear what types of behaviors violate consent and that there are consequences for those who choose to commit these violent crimes.

I believe behavior on campus would be radically altered if every Grinnell student knew that sexually assaulting a fellow student would result in suspension or expulsion. I imagine it is very difficult to explain to a college that you were kicked out of your last school for sexual assault.

Vindictive? Maybe. An effective way to reduce the rape and abuse of Grinnell students? I hope so.

An Important Note
Sexual assault can be committed by any gender against any gender. I have male friends who have been assaulted by both genders. But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 9 out of 10 reported rapes are committed against women (2003). My article focuses on the experiences of women who have been assaulted by men at Grinnell, because those are the only survivors who have made contact with me.

Sexual Assault Survivors and Allies welcome contact from survivors of all genders whose sexual assaults occurred in Grinnell or elsewhere. We want to hear your stories, include you in our activism, and give you any support we can.

— Sexual Assault Survivors & Allies