Gil: The Shame Game

It seems that everyone at the College is at least aware of, if not actively following, the current sexual assault trial involving a former and a current Dartmouth student. Curious about what was being said about the trial, I logged on to Bored at Baker. If I’ve learned anything in my time here, it is that, for better or worse, when something controversial occurs at Dartmouth, Bored at Baker will be bursting with student opinions. I was not disappointed — well, not by the quantity of posts, at least. I was disgusted, however, by the horrifying things written about the alleged victim, not to mention similar comments posted by students and non-students alike on coverage by The Dartmouth and other online news outlets. There are posts blaming the alleged victim: claiming she was drunk or she regretted consensual sex and “cried rape,” claiming she just wanted attention. There are posts calling her a “slut,” judging and denouncing her for the same activities so many other Dartmouth students are also guilty of — indulging in alcohol and attending parties. And perhaps worst of all, posters have even published her name, which remained on Bored at Baker long enough for numerous people to see.

To be fair, I have written columns in support of anonymity, including on Bored at Baker. However, anonymity is not the entire problem here. I fear that many people would willingly voice these same opinions without the veil of anonymity — and some already have — both in response to this particular case and to many similar situations.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so shocked. First, there were the Real Talk protests. Then, there was the infamous “rape guide.” And now this. Last year, I did not want to believe the Real Talk claim that Dartmouth perpetuates a so-called “rape culture.” My friends and the people I interacted with would never condone such a thing — so where were all these supposed victim blamers? I now see that they exist. And although I wish I had never stumbled upon this segment of our community, now that I have, I cannot ignore it. My conscience will not allow me to sit by idly as a fellow student is lambasted for daring to report that he or she was violated. And it is disturbing to think that behind those demeaning anonymous comments are actual Dartmouth community members who truly believe the majority of reported sexual assaults on college campuses can be attributed to attention-seeking or regret.

I am ashamed to call these people my peers. I’ve written recently about placing too much blame on Dartmouth and other institutions in regards to sexual assault, which is arguably a societal issue. To that end, I agree that, beyond Dartmouth, a relatively strong contingent of society believes it is acceptable to publicly blame victims. So take this not only as a condemnation of victim-blaming and –shaming in Dartmouth’s culture, but as a condemnation of a society in which it exists and is tolerated by a sufficient portion of our population. Still, should Dartmouth not, as a venerated institution of higher learning, set an example for society to follow?

When will we learn our lesson? How many more students must be disgraced before we realize something needs to change?

In these situations, the harm extends beyond the directly affected individuals. Adverse responses to a victim seeking justice foster the negative stigma associated with reporting sexual assault. This makes it less likely for future victims to seek help and file reports. In turn, perpetrators could get away with assault, increasing the possibility of repeat offenses.

Until — and even after — a verdict has been reached, speculation attacking the alleged rapist is not constructive. However, to shame and castigate an accuser in the face of a not guilty result can easily be just as disgraceful. Even if an accused individual is found not guilty, such a verdict does not always necessarily mean “innocent;” it simply means the prosecution could not prove the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Unfortunately, the vile comments posted about this particular alleged victim have already done considerable damage. My only hope is that, someday soon, no other student will have to feel vilified by the very community that should offer the most support.

 

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