Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

No Laughing Matter

When students received an email on Oct. 17 from the Department of Public Safety about a ‘forcible fondling’ in Burleith, many were unsure whether or not to laugh; judging by the Facebook activity, nervous giggling and classroom chatter that followed, it was taken as something of a joke after all.

Sexual assault is a terrible crime. It can ruin victims’ self-esteem, diminish their ability to trust others and cause wide-ranging psychological repercussions. Yet the enduring culture on campus projects a relaxed attitude about sexual violence that must be brought up to speed with the staggering severity of this crime.

Studies estimate that 20 to 25 percent of women have been sexually assaulted by the time they leave college. These, however, are only the known cases. Many more go unreported each year because victims are afraid to speak out against someone who, in many cases, is a familiar assailant.

Georgetown is no stranger to this phenomenon. In April 2010, a girl was walking down the stairs in Copley Hall when a stranger unaffiliated with the university grabbed her and put his hand up her shirt. Beginning in the fall of 2009, there was a string of assaults that some attributed to a so-called ‘Georgetown Cuddler.’ Two weeks ago, a girl was walking in Burleith at 2 p.m. — in broad daylight — when she was assaulted.

Only five to 10 sexual assaults are reported on campus every year, which is a small fraction of those that actually occur, according to DPS Associate Director Joseph Smith. The ones reported are likely the most disturbing, involving strangers, rather than unwanted sexual contact from a friend or acquaintance.

It’s easy to use humor to deflect the severity of such crimes. While DPS tells students not to rely on nicknames like the “Georgetown Cuddler,” making light of an uncomfortable situation can be an easy habit to fall back on. When that threat is a suspect breaking into a woman’s home to violate her in her sleep, however, students should be doing anything but laughing. There is a time and a place for humor, but when sexual violence is its object, we jeopardize the cohesion of our campus community as a safe space for all.

We must work collectively to change our campus culture and make Georgetown recognize sexual violence for what it truly is: a deeply disturbing violation of personal space and security that has lasting effects. More students should attend events by Take Back the Night and RU Ready?, two campus programs aimed at moving sexual assault into the public conscience. Furthermore, both students and officials must be more aware of the terminology they use to describe sexual violence. Undoubtedly, DPS was not intending the term ‘forcible fondling’ to be belittling, but that does not negate the comical effect the words had.

But most importantly, the university should consider revising its disciplinary policy. Victims of sexual violence are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement if they want to press charges. They may tell the outcome of their complaint to their parents and adviser, but they are not permitted to share the name of their assailant publicly at their own discretion. Perhaps if assailants knew their names could be made public, they would be less likely to even consider committing a sexual crime in the first place.

We make fun of things that may be too difficult or unpleasant to think about, but we can’t sacrifice getting to the heart of the matter. Sexual violence is real and shockingly prevalent — and making jokes about it will do nothing to mitigate the trend.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *