FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Columbia University’s Well-Intended Advice

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:
April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail