No easy answers to sexual violence

Gender violence has never been a more prevalent issue than it is today. In wake of the recent abduction and murder of Michelle Gardner-Quinn, which was seemingly if not undeniably sexually motivated, and recent headlining sexual assault cases, women have reason to be afraid. Now women must become aware. The gunman who took ten female hostages in an Amish schoolhouse, singled out the girls, aged six to 13, and forced all older women and males to leave the room. Press reports say that the attack was sexually motivated. Several weeks earlier, a middle aged man took six girls hostage in a Colorado classroom, and in the same manner, hand picked “small girls, many with blond hair.” Press reports confirm that the gunman “sexually assaulted and traumatized” some of the victims. These attacks represent the consistent trend of young girls being targeted for sexual assault. Statistics from the National Violence Against Women survey found that 21.6 percent of women who survived rape were under the age of 12, and 32.4 percent were between the ages 12 to 17. Now the problem that once loomed in the distance has hit home. Females in Burlington fear walking alone downtown, as well as on-campus. Friends of mine have refused to come over on school nights because they’re afraid of having to walk home alone. Over and over again the same solution is offered. Women are told not to walk by themselves; to find a male escort. Is this just a case of replacing one male with another? Women are told not to walk home alone because of male predators in society. And yet, by asking a male to walk her home, a female faces the same threat. The survey found that of the 17.6 percent of women who survived a rape or attempted rape, 64 percent were assaulted by spouse, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date. There is no guarantee that the male friend who offers to walk you home won’t become the feared sexual assaulter, especially when alcohol is involved. When examining Gardner-Quinn’s murder, questions are brought up like why was she walking home alone that night? This type of questioning is futile and unproductive. It blames the victim for her actions, rather than focusing on the actions of the attacker. Prevention for women is important, but it is men’s actions that need to change. Women should not take this step backward, a step towards dependence. The threat of gender violence should be acknowledged by women, but it should not control their lives. Tragedies like the ones that have occurred in the last month, bring to the surface the larger issue of women trusting men. Women are told to be dependent on men, and at the same time to fear them. The message is not consistent. A UVM sophomore, who we’ll call Rachel, experienced an incident of assault many other women can relate to. After drinking at a party downtown, she decided to stay with a male acquaintance who offered her a place to sleep so she didn’t have to walk back up to campus. The next morning she woke up with no shirt on, her pants unbuttoned, and no recollection of what had occurred with the male acquaintance the night before. Feeling embarrassed and uncomfortable about her actions, she didn’t ask him what happened. The victim’s concern for her own well-being was overshadowed by shame produced by societal standards. Wanting to forget the experience and not think about it any further, Rachel never questioned what occurred, a decision she now regrets. There is no easy solution to gender violence. Men and women need to recognize that male violence towards women is an imperative issue, and it needs to stop.