Letter: This Is Not Sex Positive

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual Assault Survivors and Allies [survivors] welcome contact from survivors of all genders whose sexual assaults occurred in Grinnell or elsewhere. We want to hear your stories, include you in our activism, and give you any support we can.

The Scope of the Problem
The number of sexual assaults at Grinnell and the pervasiveness of coercive sexual practices is disgusting. Since I was sexually assaulted four weeks ago I have reached out to other survivors and talked with administrators to try to grasp the magnitude of the problem. I believe I have only scratched the surface, and I am horrified.

Sexual assault is notoriously under reported; the numbers we do have are too high. According to Steve Briscoe there were seven reports of sexual offenses at Grinnell College in 2011 and nine already in 2012. Sexual offenses include sexual assaults and other sexual misconduct such as harassment and fondling. These numbers only include incidents reported to Campus Security, so the actual number of incidents is significantly higher.

According to a 2000 study by the U.S. Department of Justice approximately 2.8% of women on a college campus may experience rape or attempted rape during the course of a single academic year, which does not include assaults which occur during school breaks (Fisher, Cullen, and Turner).

There are about 1600 students at Grinnell College and about 55% of them are female, so in any given academic year approximately 25 women experience rape or attempted rape at Grinnell if the Department of Justice estimates are correct. In four years, there will be approximately 100 rapes or attempted rapes on campus. Any given woman who attends Grinnell for four years has about a 10% chance of experiencing rape or attempted rape.

Grinnell’s Sex Culture and Rape Culture
When six survivors and I shared our stories of sexual assault, some common themes emerged. Based on our experiences, there is a hypermasculine sense of entitlement that most of our rapists embodied.

Our sexual assaults were not an aberration from Grinnell’s sex culture. They were an extension of it. The more we compared our experiences (both consensual and non-consensual), the clearer it became that a sense of pressure and disempowerment is more common than not.

We noticed a pattern throughout many of our sexual encounters of not being comfortable with some sex acts that our male partners wanted. It was rare for them to accept this and allow themselves to simply enjoy sex we could both agree to. Instead they often bargained, argued, pestered or coerced us into performing the sex acts or reluctantly accepted our limits. This is not sexy, and not sex positive.

Sexual assault is not a dramatic departure from Grinnell’s sex culture. It is the final step on this spectrum of bargaining, arguing, pestering, and coercing. I believe that it is the rare man who happily respects consent, although most do not cross the line into sexual assault.

For those who do cross that line and sexually assault their fellow students, they seem to think there are no consequences. Usually there are none.

Shameful Failure of Self-Governance
We do not believe that Grinnell College has put enough money, thought, or staff towards preventing sexual assault on campus, but we also recognize the administration as allies. Our anger is reserved for the men who sexually assaulted us, and we hope that you will channel your anger towards them as well. We do not blame the administration for the number of sexual assaults at Grinnell, but we do find their current efforts to prevent assaults totally inadequate.

The perpetuation of rape culture along with alcohol hospitalizations, and the casual destruction of campus property all represent shameful failures of self-governance.

If you don’t have the guts to intervene when you see someone kick over a trash can and walk away, what are the chances you will risk the social embarrassment of getting involved to make sure everything is okay when you see a man half carrying a barely conscious woman into her room?

If you are too afraid to confront your friend when he keeps drinking dangerous amounts, what are the chances you will be brave enough to support a survivor when she says your buddy raped her?

It is our responsibility as students to intervene when we see potentially abusive or coercive situations. We applaud organizations such as Real Men, Active Minds, Feminist Action Coalition, Campus Advocates, and AJust that have worked to raise awareness, support survivors, and prevent sexual assaults.

Supporting Survivors
There have been important efforts in recent years to streamline the reporting process and make sure survivors receive a consistently supportive message from administrators. But there are still lingering stories from before about survivors having unpleasant and retraumatizing experiences after approaching various staff members or trying to hold their attackers responsible.
Based on my experience and that of most of the survivors I know, the college administrators are compassionate, sensitive, supportive, and helpful.

Unfortunately, students remain in the dark about the available resources and who to approach. It should be common knowledge that the college takes sexual assault very seriously, which staff members are the best contacts, and that they are focused on the well-being of the survivor.

Inadequate Prevention
Despite the solid support for survivors, there are few effective policies to prevent assaults. Sexual assault is not a natural disaster. Nine Grinnell men decided to violate my friends and me. And we are not the only ones.

The college needs to take aggressive steps to make it crystal clear what types of behaviors violate consent and that there are consequences for those who choose to commit these violent crimes.

I believe behavior on campus would be radically altered if every Grinnell student knew that sexually assaulting a fellow student would result in suspension or expulsion. I imagine it is very difficult to explain to a college that you were kicked out of your last school for sexual assault.

Vindictive? Maybe. An effective way to reduce the rape and abuse of Grinnell students? I hope so.

An Important Note
Sexual assault can be committed by any gender against any gender. I have male friends who have been assaulted by both genders. But according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 9 out of 10 reported rapes are committed against women (2003). My article focuses on the experiences of women who have been assaulted by men at Grinnell, because those are the only survivors who have made contact with me.

Sexual Assault Survivors and Allies welcome contact from survivors of all genders whose sexual assaults occurred in Grinnell or elsewhere. We want to hear your stories, include you in our activism, and give you any support we can.

— Sexual Assault Survivors & Allies

'Letter: This Is Not Sex Positive' have 11 comments

  1. May 6, 2012 @ 6:01 pm Mother who hoped her children lived in a different world

    Rape is rape is rape, and the sooner universities make that clear, the sooner we’ll begin to make progress on campuses,” Vice President Biden said.
    Biden told an audience of about 600 that when it comes to sexual abuse, it is quite simple: “No means no.”
    “No means no, if you’re drunk or you’re sober,” he said. No means no if you’re in bed in a dorm or on the street, no means no even if you said yes at first and you changed your mind.”
    “No matter how much she’s had to drink, it’s never, never, never, never, never ok to touch her without her consent,” Biden said. “This doesn’t make you a man, it makes you a coward. A flat-out coward.”

  2. May 9, 2012 @ 9:02 pm Concerned Student

    If these cases are as serious as they have been made to sound, which I fully believe is true why not take it to the authorities. Or campus does not have the resources and experience that the state does. They are better equipped to handle these cases and should be given the ability to do so. Self-Gov is a great way to run a campus but is not an effective way to convict a person of sexual assault.

  3. May 10, 2012 @ 6:18 pm [survivors]

    Concerned Student,

    I did give a statement to the police, and the district attorney (I think that was her title) was comfortable with the idea of pressing charges, but I chose not to. I was satisfied with the College Hearing Board process and believed that the sanctions they gave were appropriate and proportional. The process was thorough and in my opinion fair to both parties.

    Going to court would have meant a lot more time and effort investment. I didn’t want to let him have that much of an impact on my life.

    I don’t want to speak for the other survivors, but based on our conversations I think a lot of them have a similar perspective. The men who assaulted us need to know what they did was wrong and there need to be consequences, and in most cases College Hearing Board seems to do that effectively without disrupting our lives as much as going through the legal system would.

    I believe Grinnell would be supportive of a student who chose to take their case to court, but that is the survivor’s choice.

    [survivors] ’12

  4. May 10, 2012 @ 9:44 pm Grinnell Female Student

    I completely agree, Concerned Student. A real assault should be reported to and investigated by the police. The college cannot conduct a thorough investigation and expulsion is not an appropriate way to handle a truly predatory, dangerous person. I would encourage the school to immediately report all incidents to the police and medical authorities. They should be the ones to confirm the account. In the case of confirmed assault, the assaulter should be legally dealt with.

  5. May 11, 2012 @ 1:36 am [survivors]

    Grinnell Female Student,

    These are real assaults and the college has both the resources and the capabilities to get the full story and make a decision about what are the appropriate consequences if the perpetrator is found responsible.

    This is not SVU. These men have caused a lot of pain and trauma through their actions, but I would not go so far as to call most of them “predatory” or “dangerous people” in the sense that you are implying. These are men who are raised in a misogynistic culture who think they have the right to ignore what women say they do and do not want done to their bodies. What they did to us is wrong, but its not as black and white as you make it out to be.

    The decision is up to the survivor how to proceed. When I spoke to the police they made it clear that it was at my discretion. They would not be able to successfully prosecute a case if they did not have the cooperation of the survivor. The reason why these cases are not going through the legal system is that the survivors are not choosing to press criminal charges even though they have the legal grounds. Its not the schools choice.

    [survivors] ’12

  6. May 11, 2012 @ 11:31 pm Grinnell Female Student

    Thank you for the balanced and informative comment.
    I do not think many of these men are dangerous or predatory either; however, a few may be and for them to only be dealt with by the college is not a solution. Expulsion would not prevent a criminal person from acting elsewhere.
    On the other side, as you said, I think most of these men are not dangerous. Many of them I am sure acted very inappropriately to the point of rape. I think the personal accounts of those involved should make up a substantial portion of the evidence. I also very much want to respect a survivor’s right to not involve the police. I understand that such involvement can make the situation much more stressful. However, there is a danger that things will not be investigated in the manner they should be. With most crimes, a he said/she said verbal testimony is not evidence enough. While I would largely side with women in sexual assault cases, I do wish to be fair to both sides. It seems only proper to me that a true investigation should be conducted and that evidence beyond a few testimonials should be given.

  7. May 12, 2012 @ 5:47 pm [survivors]

    Grinnell Female Student,

    What kind of evidence do you have in mind? None of the women who gave their stories in the other article we wrote got rape kits. One had medical evidence from having the tampon removed, but that does not tie the assault to the man who her friend saw half carrying her home. I suppose the friends’ testimony would be useful in two of her assaults… Sometimes there is photographic evidence or texts that can be shared in the hearings, sometimes there aren’t.

    When there is evidence or witnesses brought by either side they are presented to the board, but often it is he said/she said. But based on my hearing and the two hearings I observed as a supporter of the victims, I have full faith in the process. The board members ask good questions and take their jobs very seriously. In each case both parties were given the chance to make their arguments in full and present any evidence they had.

    After all was said and done I would be very surprised if there was a shadow of doubt in any of the board members minds that they were making the right ruling. It is a thorough and fair process, and I encourage you to approach Travis Greene if you have any concerns about how the hearings are conducted.

    As I commented on the other article with our personal accounts: I also encourage you to look up the college’s Sexual Misconduct Policy. http://www.grinnell.edu/offices/studentaffairs/shb/campuslife/sexualmisconductpolicy

    A sexual act is considered nonconsensual if it is without Effective Consent: “Effective Consent is informed, freely and actively given, mutually-understandable words or actions, which indicate a willingness to participate in mutually-agreed upon sexual activity. Consent is not effective if it results from the use of physical force, threats, intimidation, or coercion.”

    If you get a yes after significant verbal or emotional pressure that is considered coercive according to my understanding. If you get a no but keep asking and pestering and arguing until you get a yes that is coercion.

    I think a big problem at Grinnell is that a lot of students do not understand effective consent. This is not surprising. We live in a rape culture where men are told to do whatever they can/have to to have sex with a woman and where our own bookstore has in the past sold shirts with slogans along the lines of “If she says no give her another drink.” (That shirt was removed after students objected).

    I think a lot of the perpetrators are overgrown boys who don’t know what to do or how to act when they’re naked in bed with a woman. They have a dick and they know they want to “get it in” her. I think in many cases they don’t know how to touch or kiss their partners, and are too insecure or anxious to figure out how to really give or receive pleasure.

    I think a lot of the harm done is out of ignorance rather than malice, but they are causing enormous harm. I am angry at them because they have hurt me and my friends very very badly, but I think a lot of it comes down to needing better sex ed and a deemphasis on intercourse. We are having productive conversations with the administration and male students (several of whom are 1st and 2nd years) about what kind of prevention efforts can be put in place next year.

  8. May 13, 2012 @ 9:41 pm Grinnell Female Student

    I am very interested in the last portion of your article. I very much agree that inexperience is playing a large role in the type of assault occurring on Grinnell’s campus. I would also like to see Grinnell develop better conversations and programming related to this.

  9. May 14, 2012 @ 9:59 am Sadly

    Sadly, this has been going on for decades in various forms or another. The commentary is thoughtful and rationale, but the conclusion must be the more public, official, and extra-campus involvement of authorities.

    The GC “bubble” and “self-gov” sentiments alluded to here and expressed more directly in other issues (such as police in the dorms) ignore the reality that Grinnell exists within the larger society of all…That is, students are here 4 years then live the rest of their lives in the real world. 30+ years of student affairs efforts, judicial counsel, mental health counseling, etc. all ultimately controlled by and within the college have done nothing to make substantial change. If one supports the argument that better education/support has resulted in more reports, then one must also acknowledge that the same better education/support should have resulted in at least an equal decline of overall assaults (reported or not).

    Unless and until the college administration acknowledges that criminal activities (and that’s what sexual assault is) must have the involvement — always — of society’s authorities for handling criminal matters, then victims/survivors will forever be at a disadvantage. Spend some of that big endowment on funds for outside counsel, investigations, and to engage disinterested third-parties in support of the victims/survivors.

    As long as most of this is handled inside the bubble the college’s final interest will ALWAYS be the college (gotta protect that endowment); and the perpetrators will ALWAYS be held-harmless from the full range of consequences for their actions.

  10. January 23, 2014 @ 8:16 am alumna

    I was raped at Grinnell in the late ’80s. When I called the Title IX representative at Grinnell to speak about my concerns about women at Grinnell now, and to report to her my experience, she began by asking me if I had been drinking??!?? and spoke about alcohol and consent education. I pointedly told her of research which indicates that a small percentage of men are often responsible for a large percentage of rapes (6 assaults per rapist) — she seemed unaware.
    This was not reassuring to me personally or for current students at Grinnell. I hope rapists are held accountable. I want women to know that rape is not your (our) fault.

  11. March 4, 2015 @ 8:07 pm cassie

    I am confused by those of you who said the men who raped you aren’t “dangerous.” If they raped you, what will stop them from raping other women? And if they are likely to rape other women, in what possibly way can they be “not dangerous”?

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