FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Columbia University’s Well-Intended Advice

by

Last week Columbia University’s Campus Safety Office sent out an email notification to everyone on its mailing lists describing the sexual assault of a university affiliate by a taxi driver. According to the notification, at around 4:00 AM, the driver pulled over to the side of a street near campus and assaulted the affiliate. Near the end of the email, the author wrote “When using car services, always use ‘licensed for hire’ vehicles and note the hack [sic] license number. Call ahead to your final destination and have someone waiting for you when you arrive. If you start to feel unsafe, exit the vehicle at the next inhabited, well-lit area.”

This advice was well intended. One should always patronize licensed taxi vehicles. One should always note the license plate number of any vehicle in which one travels. One should always let a friend know one’s location. One should always try to avoid dangerous situations.

But that isn’t always possible. Many taxis have self-locking doors that the driver controls, making emergency exits impossible. Many people don’t feel comfortable constantly updating friends with their whereabouts. It isn’t always possible to predict when terrible things will happen, nor is it possible to take every precaution to keep these things from happening. And it isn’t ethical to expect girls and women to go through their lives terrified about crimes and catastrophes hiding in their futures.

A few weeks ago, on April 14th, more than 270 female Nigerian secondary school students were kidnapped from their beds at the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok by fighters from Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group. This group has also been held responsible for violence in the area that has left hundreds dead in recent months. Proclaiming that “Western education is sin,” the militants herded the students like cattle into the backs of trucks while their school was set on fire. Most likely, Boko Haram will end up selling these girls into sexual slavery in order to fund the purchase of more weapons to continue being, as the mother of one of the victims put it, “merciless people that take delight in killing and destruction”.

There wasn’t anything these girls could have done to prevent their abduction. They couldn’t have chosen to sleep in a different location the night they were taken, they couldn’t have chosen to be less of a target, and they couldn’t have chosen not to pursue a “western education”. In the eyes of the Nigerian government, however, these girls’ kidnapping was very much their fault. For days after the crime took place, no attempts were made to verify the number of girls that were taken, no search parties were deployed, and no explanation was offered to the families the girls left behind. Since then, Nigeria’s information minister, Labaran Maku, has stated that attempts to rescue the girls are unnecessary or unwise, rebranding their sexual slavery as “marriages”. This logic suggest that sexual violence is an unavoidable condition that politicians and other authority figures can hide through creative PR techniques. Through this paradigm, politicians and school officials alike give themselves permission to approach serious and emotionally-charged issues from a fundamentally flawed perspective.

No matter how many well-intentioned warnings are issued, telling women to be careful isn’t an effective way to prevent gender-motivated crime. Neither is it an adequate response to those crimes. Responding to campus sexual assault by expecting female students to change their behavior to prevent further rapes absolves their attackers from any kind of culpability for their actions, as does the Nigerian government’s implication that the kidnapped Chibokan girls should make the best of their situation.

In fact, approaching the problem of sexual assault from this standpoint only confuses the issue further. Instead of using valuable time and resources on establishing that sexual assault and sexual violence do indeed take place and on determining what girls and women do to fall victim (as per the measures suggested by President Obama’s Campus Sexual Assault Task Force, which include student surveys and the establishment of support websites for survivors, such as notalone.gov), institutions such as Columbia University and governments across the globe should direct their resources elsewhere.

On a very basic level, if programs are implemented to teach potential aggressors not to act on their urges, and if institutional changes are put in place to altogether avoid situations in which girls and women can be harmed, then societies would likely see a very marked decrease in gender-motivated violence. Measures such as mandatory training, more frequent employee check-ins, and better education seem like a small price to pay for such significant returns.

Zoe Danner is a freshman at Columbia University.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

February 22, 2017
Mike Whitney
Liberals Beware: Lie Down With Dogs, Get Up With Fleas
John Grant
On Killers and Bullshitters*
Peter Linebaugh
Catherine Despard, Abolitionist
Patrick Cockburn
The Bitter Battle for Mosul
Ted Rall
Sue the Bastards? It’s Harder Than You Think
Yoav Litvin
The Emergence of the Just Jew
Kim Scipes
Strategic Thinking and Organizing Resistance
Norman Pollack
Mar-a-Lago, Ideological Refuge: Berchtesgaden, II
Fred Donner
Nixon and the Chennault Affair: From Vietnam to Watergate
Carl Kandutsch
Podesta vs. Trump
Ike Nahem
To the Memory of Malcolm X: Fifty Years After His Assassination
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Tough Talk Won’t Fix Chicago
Paul Donnelly
Betsy DeVos and the War on Public Education
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
The End of an Alliance for Police Reform
Richard Lawless
Wall Street Demanded the Nuclear Option and the Congress Delivered
Liaquat Ali Khan
Yes, Real Donald Trump is a Muslim!
Ryan LaMothe
“Fire” and Free Speech
CounterPunch News Service
Bloody Buffalo Billboards
February 21, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Finance as Warfare: the IMF Lent to Greece Knowing It Could Never Pay Back Debt
CJ Hopkins
Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution
John Wight
Firestarter: the Unwelcome Return of Tony Blair
Roger Harris
Lenin Wins: Pink Tide Surges in Ecuador…For Now
Shepherd Bliss
Japanese American Internment Remembered, as Trump Rounds Up Immigrants
Boris Kagarlitsky
Trump and the Contradictions of Capitalism
Robert Fisk
The Perils of Trump Addiction
Deepak Tripathi
Theresa May: Walking the Kingdom Down a Dark Alley
Sarah Anderson
To Save Main Street, Tax Wall Street
Howard Lisnoff
Those Who Plan and Enjoy Murder
Franklin Lamb
The Life and Death Struggle of the Children of Syria
Binoy Kampmark
A Tale of Two Realities: Trump and Israel
Kim C. Domenico
Body and Soul: Becoming Men & Women in a Post-Gender Age
Mel Gurtov
Trump, Europe, and Chaos
Stephen Cooper
Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump
February 20, 2017
Bruce E. Levine
Humiliation Porn: Trump’s Gift to His Faithful…and Now the Blowback
Melvin Goodman
“Wag the Dog,” Revisited
Robert Hunziker
Fukushima: a Lurking Global Catastrophe?
David Smith-Ferri
Resistance and Resolve in Russia: Memorial HRC
Kenneth Surin
Global India?
Norman Pollack
Fascistization Crashing Down: Driving the Cleaver into Social Welfare
Patrick Cockburn
Trump v. the Media: a Fight to the Death
Susan Babbitt
Shooting Arrows at Heaven: Why is There Debate About Battle Imagery in Health?
Matt Peppe
New York Times Openly Promotes Formal Apartheid Regime By Israel
David Swanson
Understanding Robert E. Lee Supporters
Michael Brenner
The Narcissism of Donald Trump
Martin Billheimer
Capital of Pain
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail