A few days ago, the University of Michigan sent an e-mail to its students, faculty, and staff updating them on the police investigation of the recent rise of sexual attacks near campus. The women involved were attacked in stairwells, parking structures, and on the street. Although some of the attacks happened at night, at least one occurred in the afternoon as a woman went to a parking structure to get her car. Initially, the university’s response seemed inadequate and almost laughable. It urged young women to be careful and to never walk by themselves. It was as though most women were already worried about being attacked, and that it was up to us to make sure that we weren’t attacked. One of my friends, angered by the university’s response, posted the following guide to men on how to avoid sexually assaulting women. It began simply, “If you see a woman walking alone, don’t follow her. If she is wearing clothing you think are revealing, do not think that she deserves whatever she gets. And, no matter what happens, don’t rape her.”
As time passed, however, the university’s response got better. Officials at the university agreed to meet with one of my friends who was particularly concerned about what the campus’ response was going to be. She had been assaulted once in New York and was determined that the university should do everything in its power to prevent other young women from being assaulted after the reports initially began to circulate. The university has also sent out multiple e-mails about the investigation and was supportive of a Take Back the Night Rally.
I applaud the university’s response to the rapes, but I think we need to expand the way that we think about rape and the way in which we respond to it. Although the university’s efforts have been commendable, most rapes do not occur in parking lots, elevators, or staircases. They occur in apartments, bedrooms, and at parties. Most women are raped by men that they know, not by strangers. I would like to see campuses like the University of Michigan become more involved in preventing these everyday, more frequent types of rape. There needs to be education and activism to stop sexual violence within relationships and by acquaintances. Focusing too much on one type of rape without being equally vocal about the others spreads the misperception that the danger of being raped is one that exists primarily in the streets and not within the walls of your home and those of your friends.