Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, you’ve probably heard about the Public Safety crime alert from last Thursday, which reported that a male University of Connecticut student went up to a woman, touched her behind and ran away.
Some students may have chuckled; I know I did, at first. And then I thought about the implications of this unusually public crime. How often does the UConn student body hear about a UConn student non-consensually grabbing someone else, and from the UConn police, of all sources? Usually, campus-wide crime alerts report on theft, suspicious behaviors and the like. Why would the entire university receive an email about a stranger grabbing someone’s butt and running away, why do any of us care? It was probably a prank, or maybe someone dared him to do it, right?
These are what excuses sound like. These are why one in four college women get sexually assaulted: the “boys will be boys” mentality, along with an unconscious and automatic response to what we have learned to view as petty crimes against women. Excuses have enabled us all to turn a blind eye to the obvious issues of rape culture. Not anymore.
I could go on about the fact that this was sexual assault and how offensive the memes that have been made about it are, to survivors especially, but instead I want to draw your attention to a different side of the issue: the visibility side. The part where UConn made the conscious decision to point out unacceptable behavior.
Where do we draw the line between a prank and sexual assault? How do we define behavior that can no longer be tolerated on college campuses, and take the time to shame and teach those who choose to take part in it? Why have we been so quick to look over things such as inappropriate grabbing and touching, simply because it isn’t as violent as rape?
Some of you may remember hearing about UConn paying a $1.28 million settlement to the five students who charged the university with mishandling their sexual assault and harassment cases back in July 2014. A quick Google search can easily bring up the comment from a UConn police officer telling a sexual assault victim that “women have to just stop spreading their legs like peanut butter” or rape will continue to happen.
In just two years, UConn has gone from being at the center of a media storm for its limited ability to prevent sexual assault and harassment and support victims, to an institution with a special task force dedicated to education, prevention, support and justice.
The UConn police didn’t just send out an email blast of a crime report that day. They sent out a reminder that fixing our society’s problems regarding sexual assault starts by prosecuting inadmissible behavior from its beginning stages. By showing students that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated, we are cultivating a new mentality, one that reminds us all that sexual harassment and sexual assault are crimes against the law and against humanity. It takes one step to make a difference, and while UConn has not been known for their past dealings with sexual assaults, this report comes as a sign that there is hope for this university yet.
Margaux Ancel is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.