Brison talks on assault, recovery

by Kristin Szostek | 11/13/02 6:00am

Philosophy Professor Susan Brison discussed her experience as the victim of a brutal rape at a presentation yesterday of her recently published book, "Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self."

While Brison dedicated much of the discussion to her own experience and recovery, she also addressed the larger issues of victims' rights and what she called the social "phenomenon" of misogyny.

Brison was attacked while walking alone through a country field near Grenoble, France. Her attacker, a young local farmer, was quickly apprehended and confessed to the crime. He was later sentenced to 10 years in prison. She did not know her attacker prior to the assault.

The process of "re-building" herself following the attacks was accompanied by a search for a reason, Brison said.

Unable to find a specific reason, Brison came to believe that her perpetrator acted out of animosity toward women. "I perceive myself as the victim of a hate crime," she said.

Violence and hatred against women are cultural problems, Brison argued, suggesting that society needs to raise men to have more positive views toward women.

Brison expressed dismay that sexual violence is seen in America as a subject of jokes and ridicule, noting that when other forms of violence occur, such as terrorist attacks, society will immediately treat that subject more sensitively.

Brison was also vocal against the death penalty and was disturbed that "victims' rights movements" are often confused with pro-death penalty groups.

After reading several short passages from "Aftermath," Brison discussed the process of writing as a way to both deal with her own pain and a way to "make it easier for others to tell their stories."

"I consider myself a victims' rights advocate," Brison said.

She explained that, while she wasn't strong enough to interact one-on-one with other rape victims, she hoped to reach others through her writing.

Following the readings and lunch, Brison moved from table to table to participate in more intimate discussions with the audience.

Lingling Zeng, a graduate student, described the shame Chinese women bear when they disclose incidents of sexual assault and expressed her admiration for Brison in speaking out and telling her story.

Johan Eideberg '02 asked if Brison was satisfied by the 10-year sentence the perpetrator received. Brison said yes, and added that she was not so much mad at him as at the society that produced him, recalling her earlier discussion on misogyny.

Although the luncheon began at noon and was scheduled to end at one, Brison stayed until nearly two o'clock discussing her story and book with eager students and faculty.

Many audience members were captivated by Brison's speech, keeping their eyes glued on the author and nodding intermittently. Several almost forgot to eat their soup, only realizing it was there when waiters attempted to put the second course on the table.

"Aftermath," published earlier this year, describes Brison's 1990 assault and discusses how she dealt with her trauma over the years that followed.

Brison's audience yesterday afternoon was comprised of a diverse group of students and faculty.

One female student disclosed that she was the victim of a sexual assault and found such events enriching. Other students were there out of academic interest or attended with a particular class.

When asked why she had come, fellow philosophy professor Ann Bumpus simply said, "I'm here to support Susan."