Rape Culture at Salem State

Rape and sexual assault have been an international issue since the beginning of time. It is an epidemic that reaches people of all ages, sexes, classes, and races. Looking back through our history, victim-blaming has been happening since the stories of Zeus and Medusa. Zeus raped Tyndareus’s wife Leda in a bath. Medusa was raped by Poseidon and his wife, Athena, blamed Medusa and punishes her for the incident by turning her hair into snakes. Although rape is still a prevalent issue, bills and laws have been introduced within the past 20 years that have further protected victims of rape and sexual assault such as The Clothesline Project in 1997 and the Sexual Assault Survivors Right Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2016. In this post we will be looking at sexual assault at Salem State University through archival articles from the past and current issues today.

 

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Throughout history, rape was never viewed as a crime because women were considered property and without rights. Men would take women as an act of aggression; the affirmation of their strength and masculinity. At first rape was only considered a crime in terms of the property violation of another man; punishment was given to the man who damaged the husband’s property (his wife.) Women began gathering in Consciousness Raising groups in the 1970s where they shared their stories of abuse by husbands and boyfriends, the day to day fear of harassment, and rape. In 1971, the New York Radical Feminists organized a Speak Out which gave people the voice they needed if they were suffering privately.

The article above was forwarded to The Log from the Salem State Police Department on March 23rd, 1977. This article outlines things pertaining to rape like precautions and preventions, basic procedures, reporting, and what to expect at the hospital. Knowing that this article was written in the 1970’s there are some things mentioned that are specific to the time period. For instance, mentioned within the article is advice that says women should dress sanely because they can’t run as fast if they are wearing platform shoes or constricting clothing. Other areas of the article say things like “It is OK to be paranoid” and “self-defense may not save you, but a bit of paranoia can.” Advice such as this is specific to the time period because in today’s society women are not encouraged to monitor their actions and behaviors to prevent from being raped. This article suggests that women can prevent rape mainly by monitoring their actions, behaviors, and surroundings, but as we now know, this is not the case.

As of October 7th, 2016, President Barack Obama signed legislation to create a bill of rights for victims of sexual assault nationwide. It will be the first time the term “sexual assault survivor” appears in federal code. Originally, this Act was inspired by a woman who is a survivor of rape named Amanda Nguyen. Her story consisted of having to scramble every six months to keep her rape kit and prevent police from destroying it. This Act opens the gates to more conversations about rape and how to protect more people from it. Survivors will now have the right to a free medical forensic examination, the rape kit, and ensures that the kit will be preserved at least until the statute of limitations expires. However, in situations where states do not maintain a time-frame, this law enforces that if an agency wants to dispose of a rape kit, they must provide written notice to the victim at least sixty days in advance and continue to preserve the survivor’s kit if they request to do so.

 

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During the Men’s Rape Prevention Project in Washington DC, 58,000 soldiers died in the Vietnam war, also in this period of time, 51,000 women were killed mostly by men who said they loved them. This lead to them to creating the clothesline project so it could educate and break the silence about violence against women. The Clothesline Project (CLP) is a program that started in Cape Cod, MA in 1990. A small group of women that had experienced some form of personal violence wanted to find a unique way to take staggering statistics and turn them into an educational and healing tool for people. Rachel Carey-Harper was a visual artist that got moved by the power of AIDS quilt and she got the idea for the clothesline; this was a natural idea. Doing laundry and hanging clothes from a clothesline has always been considered women’s work, so the idea that sexual assault survivors could make a statement through hanging t-shirts on a clothesline was perfectly fitting. In October 1990, the original Clothesline Project with 31 shirts was displayed on a village green in Hyannis, Massachusetts. This was part of the annual “Take Back the Night” March and Rally.

The Clothesline Project at Salem State occurred on campus in the Alumni Plaza in front of the Campus Center on Monday, September 22nd, 1997 from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. This specific Clothesline Project included sexual assault survivors from the North Shore area.

Currently, The Clothesline Project has become a national campaign that is carried out through schools and colleges all over the US. In 2008, an article about The clothesline Project was published in Psychology Today magazine. What the purpose of this initiative is, is to address the issue of assault and violence against women. Women who partake are able to express their feelings by designing their own t-shirts and putting them on display. Each shirt tells a different story and women are able to know their not alone. Just recently, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness month, students at Lamar Community College in Colorado, University of North Carolina, Newton Green in New Jersey, and other campuses across the US, have participated in this project. The Clothesline project has and will continue to raise awareness and give support to women who have been victimized.

 

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The first article above, “Suit alleges college ignored complaints of harassment” by Julie Manganis, was published in The Evening News on February 10th, 2000. Through this article it is explained that two Salem State students filed a suit against the
school because officials allegedly ignored their sexual harassment complaints against a professor. These two students alleged that the professor harassed and threatened them for three years straight. The suit also alleged that the professor had other claims brought against him because of incidents that occurred at Salem State as well. Salem State supposedly did nothing to penalize the professor and actually promoted him to full professorship and granted him tenure. Between the time the first article was published and the next article was published the professor facing allegations was suspended from SSU. However, when brought to court the court sided with the professor stating that Salem State was wrong to suspend the professor from teaching graduate courses. Teachers in Salem State’s Division of Graduate and Continuing Education Program are represented by the Massachusetts Teachers Association and are covered by a contract. Ultimately, some would say that Salem State responded to allegations of sexual assault against a professor much too late and in return nothing happened to the alleged professor.

Just recently on April 18th, a teen from Wesleyan College was charged with raping a woman who was heavily intoxicated in her dorm room . According to the article, she was unable to give consent and the victim was forced into oral sex and intercourse. The man is being held in jail, but no other details have been released from the school.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts want to bring down the number of women and men that are being sexually assaulted in college. At Salem State University itself, seven people reported being raped in 2014 which has more than doubled the amount from 2013. This does not take into account those who may have been raped and did not report it, seeing as only 344 out of every 1,000 rapes within the U.S. are reported to the police. Some colleges have already responded to the increasing number of sexual assaults on campus by implementing programs and safe places but they are not consistent or extensive. The plan is to institute a bill that will institute programs to respond to sexual assault on campus, such as emergency assistance and discipline policies.

 

During our research we interviewed Colleen Armstrong, who is the PEAR (Prevention, Education, Advocacy, and Response Program) Coordinator and a Salem State University officer about rape on campus.

Interview with Colleen Armstrong, PEAR Program Coordinator:

How often do rapes or sexual assault get reported to you or PEAR a year? Or if they ever do?
Since September 2016 (the beginning of the academic year), PEAR has received 10 reports of rape or sexual assault from students.

If one is reported to you, what is the protocol for the next steps in reporting this assault?
PEAR is a confidential resource.  We do not report out to anyone without a student’s express written permission.  We often connect the students to reporting resources like the police or student conduct.  We can provide help and advocacy with the reporting process.

What are some of the ways that PEAR helps to prevent these kinds of assaults on campus?
PEAR coordinates mandatory education for all incoming students around domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.  This happens in person during orientation and online through a module called Haven.  Additionally PEAR provides training to various departments and student staff.

If a rape is reported to you, is it usually female or male?
PEAR services are open and inclusive to all SSU students without regard for race, immigration status, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic status.  The majority of the survivors we serve identify as female.

Interview with Salem State police officer:

How often have you experienced cases of sexual assault on campus?
I would like to be able to say none at all but unfortunately that’s not the case. I don’t know the exact number but I have experienced some cases while I have worked here.

What is the procedure following a report of sexual assault?
Well we would start to conduct an investigation if the victim wants to press charges. We would talk to the victim and the person they accused and look at physical evidence if there is any.

Are you aware of the case in 2000 where 2 students accused a teacher of harassment?
Oh wow. No I’m not familiar with it, it was before my time here at Salem State.

In this case the accusations were ignored at first, do you feel the way that the police handle cases today is different than 17 years ago?
Yes cases of sexual assault are handled very differently compared to 17 years ago. If I were to get a case like that, I would take it very seriously to make sure the truth is found. I think that that goes for all of my fellow officers as well.

What advice do you have for students to help prevent rape and sexual assault on campus?
One of the biggest things is don’t be afraid to speak up and talk about it, I would also say if you are at a party stick with your friends and don’t take random drinks from people, also if something doesn’t feel right, leave.

What are some precautions that the police department has taken to prevent rape and sexual assault on campus?
We have the emergency buttons all around campus, we are constantly patrolling campus, we also try to be a part of the Salem State community we want the students to feel comfortable talking to us, we also keep educating ourselves and the students on sexual assault.

 

One in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in colleges. Among this, more than 90% of sexual assault victims do not report their assault. The items above prove that it has been and still is occurring at Salem State. If you or anyone you know is a victim of rape or sexual assault you are encouraged to seek help. There are many resources that Salem State offers:

Counseling and Health Services
Office Location: Ellison Campus Center 107
Telephone: 978.542.6410

PEAR Program
Ellison Campus Center Room 112
Telephone: 978.542.2987
24 Hour Confidential Advocacy Line: 978.594.7089

Spiritual Life
Rev. Laura Biddle
Telephone: 978.542.6129

 

References:

National Sexual Violence Resource Center Info & Stats For … (2015). Retrieved from http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf

RAINN | The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/

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