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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Secrets and Lies

There is no sexual assault at Dartmouth. No one is ever assaulted here, no one harassed, and certainly no student ever raped.

Or maybe if she was grabbed, she asked for it. Why else was she wearing a skirt that short? If he was harassed, he can handle it; if he can't handle it, he should get the hell out of the basement. If she didn't want to go home with that guy, why did she drink so much she passed out on the floor? No, there is no sexual assault at Dartmouth. We can rest assured that we are not in any danger. Our friends, our students, our 'shmen, our brothers and sisters and teammates, are not in any danger.

This is not only entirely false, it is one of the most dangerous and damaging assumptions we can hold. Yet we hold it tightly. Who wants to face a reality in which we are vulnerable to such heinous violation on our campus, in our Greek houses, in our own dorm rooms? Easier to believe we are all invincible, as women and men our age are wont to do.

We are not invincible, even in Hanover. According to the SAAP report, September 1998 to August 1999 saw 26 cases of sexual assault or rape, 19 cases of unwanted sexual contact, three cases of attempted sexual assault or rape, and three cases of relationship domestic abuse. The figures do not even begin to account for the presence of these crimes on our campus. Nationally, only five to sixteen percent of incidents are reported. What makes us so certain that Dartmouth is different? If anything, victims here are probably more likely to know their attacker and less likely to feel comfortable disclosing the assault.

The prevailing attitude on campus seems to be one not of indifferent ignorance, but conviction: There is NO sexual assault at Dartmouth. When emergency telephones were installed in various places around campus, a friend remarked, "We don't need those here!" A recent information session for LSA students included pointers about the possibility of assault in foreign countries. A faculty member asserted that unlike Hanover, where women can walk around alone at four in the morning with absolutely no fear, cities are dangerous! Students have made similar comments about their feelings of security in our rural setting, and their confidence that nothing bad happens here. One remarked that the only reason to have someone walk you home from a party is to avoid passing out halfway between Webster Avenue and the River and freezing to death.

If the security lights can prevent even one student from attack, they are a valid investment. But most sexual assault here is seen in the form of an acquaintance who says "Don't worry, I'll take her home," or "Baby, we should have sex, right?" The victim answers "Huh?" or even "yes," because she or he is drunk beyond all ability to make a conscious decision. This is sexual assault, and it's against the law. Most of us have seen it happen and turned the other way, but a "yes" is not a "yes" when someone can barely stand up.

What makes us feel so safe that we don't lock our doors at night? Dartmouth is our home away from home, our Ivy League utopia, and so we do our best to block out any of its negative aspects. Admitting the presence of rape and sexual assault requires us to accept certain truths about our classmates. Admitting necessitates moving beyond a fairy-tale perfect view of the College on the Hill. Recognizing the potential risk means we have to learn to take care of ourselves and of one another, and that scares us.

We haven't all seen it up close. We haven't all come face-to-face with sexual assault and so we have not all been rudely, terrifyingly awakened to the truth and immediacy of it. I looked it in the face last year when a close friend came to me with a secret, a story so painful it had pervaded every aspect of my friend's life in its aftermath. At the Take Back the Night rally I heard more stories, and I saw people who understood and wanted to make a difference. Still, for an institution of our size, the turnout at the candlelight vigil was disturbingly small. People walked by our circle on the Green all night, oblivious to the candles and tales. Those at the vigil spoke tearfully about this same obliviousness, our nave expectation that nothing and no one could harm us in our four years here.

Too many students at Dartmouth simply choose not to recognize the dangers we face. There are heart-wrenching stories, but we close our eyes and ears to them; there are warning signs we refuse to heed. Even after we hear a rumor or watch a friend cope with the trauma of sexual assault, we often dismiss it as a rarity, a fluke. I love this school as much as anyone, but no institution is flawless. It is on us to recognize the reality of sexual assault, date rape, and domestic violence. Until we come to terms with this reality, we cannot begin to eradicate sexual abuse. Man or women, Greek or independent, freshman or senior, we are all at risk. There is sexual abuse at Dartmouth. Say it until you know that it is true, and never forget it.