Rape victims should not have to suffer in silence

By Updated at 2014-05-16 20:33:55 +0000

Jessica_valenti-diaalnews.com

Rape victims shouldn't have to suffer in silence and keep their rapists' secrets

Less than a month after students at New York's Columbia University filed a complaint with the federal government alleging the school mishandled sexual assault cases, anonymous anti-rape activists are posting the names of alleged campus rapists on bathroom walls and flyers. I say more power to them – rapists deserve to be outed, and women deserve to be safe.

The "rape list" first appeared in a woman's bathroom. After the school washed it off the wall, the activists posted the list again in different bathrooms around campus. After the school removed the lists again, printed flyers started popping up. One flyer listed the names of men who it said had been found "responsible" by the university for sexual assaults, including one who was termed as a serial offender. The flyer also reads: "To the Columbia Community: Stay safe, protect and support each other, and always always make sure to have, sober, enthusiastic, continuous consent."

One of the men on the list has since been asked to leave his position as a writer on a campus website (but, yes, he's still allowed on campus).

This isn't the first time that rape survivors have taken vigilante action when legal resources failed them. In 2012, 17-year-old Savannah Dietrich risked jail time when she named her rapists – two young men who pled guilty to sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious and later sending pictures of the attack to friends. Dietrich's abusers got off with a plea deal that she called a "slap on the wrist", so against the judge's orders she tweeted out their names: "There you go, lock me up... I'm not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell."

In 2007 Tory Bowen, a Nebraska woman who was ordered not to use the word "rape" in a rape trial refused her judge's orders as well: "I refuse to call it sex, or any other word that I'm supposed to say, encouraged to say on the stand, because to me that's committing perjury. What happened to me was rape, it was not sex." (The case resulted in a mistral and Bowen later unsuccessfully sued the judge.)

And just last year a student at University of North Carolina faced expulsion for simply speaking out; the school claimed that she "intimidated" her alleged rapist by getting involved in anti-sexual assault programs on campus. She didn't even have to name him to be considered a threat.

Since when is it worse to bring attention to a rapist than to actually be a rapist? While school after school does so little about the campus rape epidemic, why would we direct scorn at anti-rape activists trying to hold their administration accountable? The "rape list" creators at Columbia aren't vandals – they're heroes.

I understand some of the concerns about the list – it would be awful if someone who had not committed a crime had their name go public on a bathroom wall with rapists. But the names listed at Columbia have, so far, all been men allegedly found guilty of sexual assault on campus.

And while we seem to be able to muster outrage over an anonymously posted list of allegedly guilty men, I have to wonder where the concern is when female students are derided as sluts and whores on anonymous forums like CollegiateACB and Yik Yak, which are widely used on college campuses. So long as humiliating women for allegedly having sex is accepted while outing rapists is criminal, I'll support the right of young people to have their voices heard, no matter what methods they use.

Whether by a judge's rule or society's stigma, rape victims are often silenced and very rarely get justice. Sometimes their voices – and actions like these – are all that they have. So when victims of sexual violence (male or female) speak out about their experiences or name their attackers, we need to listen – not wash the truth off of a bathroom wall.

Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti is a daily columnist for the Guardian US. She is the author of four books on feminism, politics and culture, and founder of Feministing.com. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Nation, among other publications, and she speaks frequently at colleges and organizations across the country and abroad. Jessica currently serves on the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook.

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