Sexual violence is an ongoing issue on college campuses nationwide, as well as in other institutions on a global scale. Many times, victims are not given the resources to deal with the problem. A victim can find many ways to help the healing process after sexual misconduct, but not much is available to help correct the behavioral construction of people who feel an entitlement over other people’s bodies and commit acts of unwanted sexual contact.
I recently experienced an unwarranted sexual encounter while at a party at a Cornell University fraternity. It was a highlighter party at the Seal and Serpent fraternity on Sept. 27. I had lost the two friends I had gone there with in the crowd. It was dark, and I was trying to find one of my friends who had too much to drink, and a guy took advantage of my distractedness.
He came up and asked if I wanted neon paint, and I consented and put my arms out in front of me for him to lather while I continued scanning the room for my friend. He proceeded to put his hands on my breasts and stomach, completely bypassing my arms, and then finally clapped both hands on my face. Afterward, he said, “Well, I guess it doesn’t really matter since we don’t know each other and will never see each other again,” and then ran into the crowd. I was left flustered because it had all happened so quickly that I felt powerless and couldn’t process what had just happened. From an outsider’s standpoint, it was a scenario that may not have seemed like it needed an intervention. I even have his handprints clearly left on the shirt from the event.
I eventually found my friend who had wandered away from the party and took care of her while wondering what could or should be done about what had happened. To my disbelief, when I told my friends at home, they laughed, and their primary reaction was, “You were at a Cornell fraternity. It’s kind of expected.” The truth is: No one should expect sexual aggression, no matter where they go.
The fraternity culture has revealed many cases of condoning sexual violence throughout history. According to Nicholas Syrett of The New York Times, “College fraternities are built on exclusion.” Syrett continued to say, “By promoting one version of masculinity — hard drinking and sexually aggressive — fraternities pressure men to change in order to earn membership and status within them. Either way, if colleges support organizations promoting these attitudes, they tacitly condone them as well, encouraging men to believe there is a place for such beliefs on campus.”
Elizabeth A. Armstrong, also of The New York Times, said, “In addition to their negative effect on gender relations and sexual climate, fraternities are frequently exclusive on the basis of class, race, sexual orientation and national origin. Despite these negative influences universities may be hesitant to rein in fraternity party life, as doing so could jeopardize tuition dollars from students interested in Greek life, as well as funds from well-heeled university alumni. It is thus unlikely that universities will ban these organizations altogether.”
Later that night, I called my parents because I felt lost and that a part of my dignity had been broken. I did not know what steps to take or what to do. It was traumatizing. I felt like I had no resources. My parents told me to call the police, who came to ask me for an account of the events. Since I am unable to identify the man who violated me, they can do nothing. I was told to seek counseling to heal personally, not that anyone could do anything about the incident. Many people are discouraged in approaching authorities for the very reason that they automatically assume nothing will be done.
I consider myself to be a very cautious and capable person, and this incident made me feel powerless. Unfortunately, this type of event happens more often than people acknowledge and often goes undocumented and unreported. I am working to advocate for collaboration of sexual assault prevention between the campuses of Cornell and Ithaca College to make the resources more accessible to sexual assault victims. People need to ask themselves if they would realize if they were being sexually assaulted and work to not act passively toward unwanted sexual attention. Sweeping problems under the rug will not make them go away and will only allow sexual assault to be condoned rather than eliminated.