Statistically speaking, one in three women is a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime. For homo- or bisexual men, that number is two in five. And in the modern college community that focuses on “hookup culture” and deemphasizes personal responsibility, sexual assault is a real problem. Beginning in the fall and continuing through last week, Bates has hosted a series of forums at which students may share stories and make suggestions for change in a safe space. The forums are serious, and rely on discussion to work through some of the more complicated topics that stem from sexual violence.
In an effort to continue the momentum that these forums have started to build, sophomores Emily Regan and Caroline Kern decided to host an event of their own.
“It started in a hair salon,” Regan admitted. She was reading a magazine and noticed a cause, promoted by Anne Hathaway, called One Billion and Rising, meant to raise awareness about violence against women. Regan decided that, as her service learning project for a Women, Culture and Health course, she would host a similar event at Bates. Kern became involved shortly after.
“On the website, it connected us with people in Lewiston. Clara is the head of the Women’s Wisdom Center, a safe space for women who have been victims of domestic violence,” explained Kern. “She was doing a flash mob and volunteered for our event at Bates.”
On Valentines Day, the two girls worked with members of the community to host Rise Against Rape, an event meant to empower and inform women about the realities of sexual and domestic violence. Posted on the walls of the 280 basement were facts about assault, gun ownership, partner violence, and the discrepancies between domestic violence against men and against women. Participants were encouraged to write down reasons for attending on a long piece of parchment paper tacked in a central location.
Volunteers from Women’s Wisdom completed their flash mob, to cheers and laughter from the audience. “It was nice that this was the highlight instead of an a cappella group,” noted Kern. “It gets Bates students realizing that our community is pretty cool, and has a lot to offer.”
While the event was well-attended, Kern and Regan noticed a distinct gender divide, with far more female participants than male. The girls described their tabling process as difficult; their friends would stop and promise to come, but it was more challenging to hold male attention.
“It definitely is a very women-based movement,” said Regan, “and that’s kind of a problem. It’s important for women to stand up for themselves, but the men need to be involved, too. And it was hard to get men to listen to us.”
Not to discredit all Bates men, of course. Many were visibly disturbed when Regan and Kern told them a few facts about their cause, and seemed interested to learn more. Still, attendance shows that interest does not necessarily translate to action.
“The boys who were there came because they had talked with their close friends about the issues,” said Kern. It seemed as if most participants had been affected in some personal way.
Both girls recognized that while the event was successful in terms of getting people to come, it is just the beginning. “The idea was to have a fun event where people could dance and relax and think about women’s independence and honor the victims,” said Kern. “It was a great first step.”
How does this event fit in with other campus efforts, from the forums and hearings to last weekend’s “Party with Consent”? Regan and Kern believe that different events are meant to reach different demographics. The forums are mostly attended by the same group of people, whereas Rise Against Rape was largely targeted at women. Although the success of the dance as a way of construing a message about consent that was positive and not trite is still up in the air, people went. And if people are talking about consent and sexual assault and recognizing that there is a problem, then that is a step in the right direction. A baby step, maybe, but a step nonetheless.