Happy Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Of course it’s also Jazz Awareness Month, so I’ll assume that if you’d somehow missed hearing about the former, it was because you were far too busy listening to old Miles Davis recordings.

I’m still fuzzy on what designating a month Anything Month is supposed to do, exactly, except perhaps make you feel better about ignoring whatever it is the other eleven months, because you totally created that themed bulletin board during Anything Month.

But a group in Columbus, Ohio has chosen a slightly different way to mark the occasion… and I do mean “mark.”

The group, which is remaining anonymous but has connections with this website, has been marking locations at Ohio State University where multiple sexual assaults have been reported in an attempt to memorialize the tragedy while raising awareness of the ubiquity of rape.

Is this an awesome form of activist art?

Is it a sensationalist tactic that re-traumatizes survivors?

Opinions are mixed.

A local paper, The Other Paper, put it this way:

The local debate exemplifies a larger, nationwide debate surrounding radical feminist organizations—who has the right to speak on behalf of the women/survivors in question? Do jarring images promote awareness of sexual assault, or merely reinforce fears and existing stereotypes surrounding sexual assault? And should activists censor shock-campaigns to protect survivors emotionally, or do bold guerilla-style actions empower survivors?

(You can read the rest here)

There’s another article on the graffiti at Jezebel too; this one focuses more on the larger context of feminist graffiti art, such as that done by Princess Hijab and others, and if it’s actually effective.

So who gets to speak for the survivors? Do these images raise awareness of the frequency at which rape actually occurs (Dude, multiple rapes happened here?), or do they once again focus exclusively on the statistically insignificant amount of rapes committed by strangers (since you’re much more likely to be raped by someone you know)? Is the good they might do outweighed by the potential for triggering survivors?

As you’re thinking about all of these issues (and please, leave a comment, I’d love to know what you think), I’d like to share one more quote from The Other Paper’s article:

Rape increased in Columbus by more than 12 percent since 2006, even though statewide, crimes of rape decreased by 2 percent over the same time period., according to the F.B.I. crime stats. Preliminary numbers for the first half of 2008 showed a decrease in the number of rapes in Columbus—that was before a serial rapist struck seven times in northwest Columbus during the last three months of last year.

Franklin County [where Columbus is] led the state in the number of forcible rapes committed in 2006 with 676, outpacing Cuyahoga County [Cleveland] by more than 100 and Hamilton County [Cincinnati] by more than 200.

Y’know, in the final analysis (and feel free to argue, I’m still parsing this out) I’m thinking the art is more helpful than harmful. Because if our primary fear is triggering rape survivors with reminders, there’s always Seth Rogan movies, ads for Pepsi, bumper stickers, t-shirts

Hell, at least the graffiti communicates that rape is, y’know, wrong.


3 Responses to “Happy Sexual Assault Awareness Month”

  1. 27 April 2009 at 10:17 am

    As a survivor raped in my own home by a family member, I often feel there’s a superficial lack of awareness to all sorts of themed months. I think the motive is a good one (as is usually the case), but I don’t feel it really gets the point across effectively. Themed months seem to objectify the topic too much and I don’t feel anything can be treated as a real issue when it’s objectified. I’m having a hard time trying to explain what I mean or find words for it. It’s not as bad as saying, “Don’t think about the pink elephant,” which is the ultimate goal of silence, but I don’t feel this sort of awareness really acknowledges the elephant’s existence either.

    Survivors are the best candidates to speak for themselves, and not all of us are willing to stay silent or willing to remain victims through silence and what irks me about these campaigns is the assumption that survivors are these lesser creatures who need the larger world to be hyper-aware of our plight before we can feel brave enough to speak out on behalf of ourselves. I think doing it this way re-enforces the stigma and doesn’t empower real victims at all, but that’s just my take on it. Not every victim thinks alike or is even the same type of person, and I don’t think there’s a magical correct answer for this question.

    I hope this makes some sort of sense. 🙂

  2. 2 K
    27 April 2009 at 4:32 pm

    One self-described feminist was going around on that feminist avenger website & other communities & defending the group’s actions. Things like, “Well don’t forget this can happen to you!”

    You think anyone ever does forget that this can happen? Seriously?

    She was defending it, because other feminists were rightfully pointing out all the mistakes & misconceptions inherent in this act.

    It only pays attention to stranger rape, the man-in-the-bushes. You’re statistically more likely to face sexual assault at the hands of someone you know, behind closed doors…
    …But of course the group probably couldn’t get into private property & bash up someone’s bedroom.

    And with no greater context, these messages look like something that a vandal would do just to get a rise out of survivors & victims! It’s like real life trolling!

    That’s just some of the problems. I’m sure you’ll see posts & discussions that do a better job than I just did.

    Well meant, maybe… but not well thought out. Very short sighted.

    I’d have much preferred to see something that doesn’t put the Onus on the victims. Something that addresses those who actually commit sexual assault. Something that gets them involved & forces them to confront what they’ve done, rather than forcing the victim to confront what happened to them.

  3. 3 LW
    30 April 2009 at 9:58 pm

    A friend posted this alarming and distressing article from the NYT about how the processing of DNA evidence collected from victims isn’t prioritized– or even really done in a normally timely fashion.


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