In this post, I am speaking as myself rather than a representative of Consent is Sexy. These sentiments reflect my personal thoughts, struggles, and reflections regarding the campaign and some of the ensuing reactions.
The Consent is Sexy Campaign has seen a variety of reactions from community members, both supportive and hurtful. Many people offered valid critiques that we tried to address, primarily through this blog. However, as a survivor I have had a very hard time hearing one criticism in particular. Some people perceived the campaign as too in-your-face, aggressive, and accusatory. They complained we were offensive. They complained the word “rape” made them uncomfortable.* They were uncomfortable with having to think about it. Having the word “rape” plastered across campus was bad for business—it was alienating to prospective students and athletes, who didn’t want to think about it either. They complained our campaign was too “negative”—that we should focus on positive messages. Since the very title of the campaign—Consent is Sexy—was positive, I am inclined to believe that any “negativity” at all would have been met with resistance. But was this even “negativity,” or was it merely honesty? People had a huge problem that we had posted the word “rape”– on a poster or in chalk– proclaiming that rape does in fact happen at Haverford. This is not negativity, it is the truth. They were uncomfortable having to acknowledge the truths being expressed; they did not want to acknowledge our experiences, our existence. They tore down and crumpled posters; they were angry and offended that we demanded to be acknowledged. Rape is a truth our community does not want to hear. Our community does not want to address these past injustices—it wants merely to move on to something more positive– without acknowledging, without remembering.
To respond to these comments, I can only quote a post by my co-blogger, Christine Letts, who so perfectly summed up the necessity of having the issue of sexual violence openly recognized by the community:
“We have an obligation to remember what our fellow citizens cannot be expected to forget.” –Pablo de Grieff
We can’t forget sexual violence. Sometimes it’s physically impossible to forget, or to stop thinking about it. We go to SOAR and remember every week. Sometimes remembering hurts. Sometimes remembering makes us angry. Sometimes remembering makes us sad. Not always, but sometimes.
We as a campus need to remember. I know people some people feel uncomfortable with the posters reminding everyone that rape happens here. But tearing down the posters won’t make rape go away. And trying to forget won’t make rape go away.
We as survivors remember. Do you?
Part of the difficulty in our campaign was getting people to remember. For us, these issues are personal, emotional, and ongoing. For the rest of the Community, they are very firmly and purposefully invisible. They are even institutionally invisible. There is a long-standing history of bitterness and injustice between SOAR and the administration. I am angry at the Deans for denying the value of SOAR as a resource for survivors and the continuing policy failures that have re-victimized on-campus survivors. I am angry at the Community for allowing a culture of silence, and then tearing down and defacing posters when we try to break the silence. So many wrongs have occurred here, and due to confidentiality and taboo, we cannot publicly address them. But for me to move forward, to be able to graduate from Haverford without the memories of my time here being tainted with pain, mourning, and bitterness, there must be justice. For the survivors on our campus to feel safe, supported, and empowered, there must be justice. For our community to move towards a better, safer, more productive future, there must be justice.
The topic of restorative justice came up when the Consent is Sexy organizers met with representatives of the administration (Interim President Creighton, Theresa Tensuan and Jason McGraw) during finals week. Steve Watter and Martha Denney—the two deans who have been most involved in this issue previously, were noticeably absent. Theresa had some wonderful suggestions, and we discussed the formation of a joint student-administrative panel (using JSAAPP as a model) to address some of the grievances brought up in our campaign. We all seemed to agree that working from a model of restorative justice will prove very fruitful in this endeavor, as this will facilitate reparations in the form of institutional change towards a safer future for all Haverford students. I believe this eye towards the future is very important. However, I also believe there must still be a look back, in order to restore the relationship we current survivors have with our college.
The system has failed the survivors on this campus. It has re-victimized us, exacerbating the burden we carry by failing to alleviate the hostility of our environment. Even though the meeting with the administration was productive, I could not help but feel unsatisfied at the end. Trying to figure out why, I now realize I want an apology. I want recognition of the wrongs that have been done before they are righted. While I think the absence of Martha Denney in particular made the meeting more productive by reducing the tension and placing focus on the future, it is undeniable that that tension still exists. I wish Martha Denney and Steve Watter had been at that meeting. Even with the legal complications of pending lawsuits and confidentiality, I need to know that they remember. Even if done privately and off the record, I want them to say “We are sorry the system failed you. We are sorry we failed you. We recognize your pain, and our role in it,” and then “How can we help you now? How can we move forward?” I want the Haverford community to recognize the trauma suffered by survivors on this campus. I want the community to say “We acknowledge your pain. We mourn with you” before they say “How can we move forward?”
A true model of restorative justice requires both recognition of past wrongs and movement towards a more productive future. Those who have not been affected by sexual violence may be able to simply move forward, but I cannot. Unlike many in our community, I cannot forget. I will never forget has happened to me and so many others, and I cannot move on to a better future with others who do. Without remembering, there will never be a true right relationship between survivors and our community. Without the recognition of injustice, moving forward is nothing more than another form of forgetting.
The Haverford Community has an obligation to remember what survivors cannot be expected to forget. First there must be remembering. Then there may be justice.
*This does not refer to survivors who were triggered. We found the potential for triggering to be a valid criticism and tried to address it with intelligent sensitivity. I am personally sorry to anyone who experienced triggering or psychological discomfort as a result of the campaign. Please accept my most heartfelt apology. I empathize with you. I hurt with you. I grieve with you. I encourage you to seek comfort by whatever means is best for you. This campaign has, in part, been my own form of comfort.