Editor’s Note: This is a letter Abigail Warhus, a junior from Evanston studying theatre, sent to SIU’s Office of Diversity and Equity. It has been edited slightly for style.
To the Office of Diversity and Equity,
I am a student and a resident assistant here at SIU. I just took the required consent and respect training and I found it to be much more harmful than helpful.
The “sexual assault” portion of the training was directed specifically at women and only focused on how women can avoid rape. This is a problematic notion because instead of teaching people not to rape, you are teaching women to change their behavior. Some statements that stuck out to me in the “risk factors” section were: “High-risk drinking,” “sensation/thrill-seeking behaviors,” “locations with a presence of alcohol (e.g. a bar)” and “being alone in a partner’s home/dorm.” This ideology, instead of encouraging respect and consent, essentially puts the onus on the victim/survivor.
A more accurate description of “high risk” behaviors in a consent context would include pursuing sexual activity with a person who is incapacitated (incapable of self-care) because of alcohol or drug consumption; consuming so much alcohol or drugs that you are incapable of controlling yourself and preventing yourself from engaging in sexual activity with a partner who has not consented, or is incapable of consenting; or continuing to pursue sexual activity after being told no, or after failing to obtain a yes.
I was further disappointed when I came across the segment called “protective factors”; once again, instead of teaching respect, this is teaching caution for women.
Perhaps the most disturbing part of this training was the statement “Stick with more serious relationships and fewer hookups.” First, this statement shames women who have casual sex. The university is establishing a sex-negative environment, which tells women that if they “hook up” they are more likely to be raped, and by extension, should expect it.
Along those lines, a serious relationship does not protect someone from violence; there is domestic abuse and intimate partner violence to address as well, according to SIU’s obligations under the Violence Against Women Act.
By offering this woefully inadequate “training,” SIU is exacerbating exactly the problem you are purporting to address. This training either needs to be eliminated or amended because, as currently delivered, it is full of slut-shaming, victim-blaming and sex-negative language.
It fails to convey its core message, which is that no one deserves to have sexual aggression perpetrated against them if they do not want it.
Behavior, drinking (or drugs), sexual promiscuity and past conduct can never absolve a perpetrator from responsibility if there is no consent.
SIU student Abigail Warhus is a junior from Evanston studying theatre.
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