April 13, Student Assembly sponsored an event entitled “How to End Rape on Campus” as a part of the College of William and Mary’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Speakers Sofie Karasek and Annie Clark co-founded a national group called End Rape on Campus, which inspired the creation of the documentary “The Hunting Ground.”
Karasek herself is a subject in the documentary, as well as an advocate for victims of sexual assault. Much of her work has been featured in national media, such as New York Times and the Washington Post. Clark is also an advocate of sexual assault awareness and has presented work on women’s issues to the United Nations.
Additionally, she was listed alongside former U.S. President Barack Obama as one of the most influential figures in higher education.
Karasek attended the University of California, Berkeley and got involved in a student organization, went on an off-campus retreat and then was sexually assaulted by one of the leaders of the organization.
“We found out shortly after I came back to campus that he had actually systemically been doing this to first year girls in this particular club that he was on the board of,” Karasek said.
Karasek said she attempted to have the perpetrator resign from leadership of the club, but this did not end up happening. Less than a month later, she said he sexually assaulted another club member. Karasek said that at this point, the university was aware of the situation, but told her to keep quiet about it.
“We ended up reporting him after the latest assault, and the university didn’t end up investigating it,” Karasek said. “They put him on disciplinary probation and let him graduate earlier. As a result, he now attends Harvard Law School.”
Clark grew up in Raleigh, N.C. and attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She said that she was used to having control in her life.
“I knew what I wanted to study, I knew I wanted to play sports,” Clark said. “I could control a ball on the soccer field, I could control how I studied in class and my grades … but I was not prepared for what happened to me.”
When she was first sexually assaulted, Clark said that she tried to push the experience to the back of her mind, but eventually needed help. It was at this point that Clark said she experienced a common response of victims of sexual assault: victim blaming.
“I reached out to a university employee who should have known what they were doing,” Clark said. “This employee told me that rape was like a football game, that I was the quarterback and in charge of my situation.”
Karasek and Clark went on to address common myths about sexual assault, including the belief that it only happens to females.
“One in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they’re 18, and actually as a man you’re more likely to be sexually assaulted than to be a perpetrator of it,” Karasek said. “So this is very much an issue that impacts everyone.”
They also cited statistics that showed racial and sexual minorities are sexually assaulted at higher rates over the course of their lives. 18.8 percent of black women, 34.1 percent of Native American women, 21.1 percent of Latina women and 50 percent of bisexual individuals will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes.
Another myth Karasek and Clark tried to “debunk” is that some extraneous factors such as alcohol consumption or revealing clothing can be the cause of sexual assault. Karasek and Clark said that the only true cause of sexual assault is the person who commits the assault. They argued that rhetoric about not going out late at night or watching one’s drink should be replaced with efforts to prevent sexual assault.
“Don’t tell us not to get raped, tell people not to rape,” Clark said.
In terms of making a change, Clark said it comes about on an individual level in instances of everyday life.
“If you’re sitting around watching March Madness or whatnot and there’s a commercial that comes on, and it is degrading to women or it’s racist or it’s in some way problematic, it’s calling that out … this is something anybody can do,” Clark said. “You don’t need to stand on a stage and talk about this to make a difference.”
Karasek and Clark also addressed how to help a friend who is a victim of sexual assault.
“[It is important] to recognize that people are at all different spaces and stages and need different things and to offer support instead of judgment and trying to play the investigator,” Clark said.
Karasek added that it is easy to feel pressure to fix the situation, but it is necessary to remember that listening goes a long way.
Sen. Brendan Boylan ’19 wrote a bill that went along with SA’s Survivor Solidarity Resolution to provide the funding necessary to bring Clark and Karasek to campus.
“This is a huge problem and we need to tackle it and we can do it right here at William and Mary where we do have those problems, but we can do better,” Boylan said.
Boylan spoke about the importance of the issue of rape on college campuses, adding that he was surprised by the statistic that 40 percent of colleges nationwide have reported zero instances of sexual assault.
“There’s no such thing as zero percent,” Boylan said.
College President Taylor Reveley also attended the event, and said that it was important to him as part of the College’s larger effort to pay more attention to sexual assault.
“It’s very important because we’re really working hard at William and Mary to prevent sexual assault, sexual harassment, and if we can’t prevent it, to respond quickly and effectively,” Reveley said. “I think we’ve made a huge amount [of progress]. First of all, it’s just gotten a lot more focused attention and we’ve put more staff resources on it, more programmatic resources, we’ve created the Haven, and I think we’re really … beginning to get peoples’ attention.”