Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Student group raises awareness of rape culture on campus

By Brian Bevilacqua

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The Coalition to End Rape Culture, a new organization on campus, is looking to reframe the conversation about sexual violence on campus.

“(We want to) “start a campus-wide conversation about sexual violence, get people to understand and practice consent, challenge students to be up-standers rather than bystanders, overturn the myths surrounding sexual violence and its survivors, and ultimately for everyone to challenge rape culture and for this to turn into movement on campus where people will be actively challenging each other to make change,” said Zoe Talkin, a junior social thought and political economy major and member of the Coalition.

An offspring of the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, the Coalition was started in response to the Angie Epifano’s column about her rape in “The Amherst Student” and to the alleged on-campus rape of a UMass student in October 2012. The Coalition currently has approximately 150 members.

The Coalition will be sponsoring a “Week of Action” next week, that will address the issue of rape in the campus community. The week will kick off with the group’s campus wide poster and flier distribution, with the goal of covering the campus with facts about rape culture and how it can be changed here at UMass.

Talkin defines rape culture as a collective mindest of culture in which sexual violence is prevalent and dominant ideologies, media and behaviors “normalize and socialize people into a system of sexual violence.”

“It is reflected through television, music, advertising, law, humor, art, and other cultural apparatuses, to such an extent that violence against women and sexual coercion seems normalized and rape appears inevitable,” she said. “What is most sinister about rape culture is that it is so thoroughly engrained into our collective consciousness that many people may be subliminally complicit in perpetuating harmful behaviors, social norms, and discourses.”

The week will continue with a screening of the film :Flirting with Danger: Power and Consent if Heterosexual Relationships” on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in Thompson 102. A question and answer session with the professors who directed the film will follow the screening.

On Wednesday, from 10 to 4 p.m., the Coalition will table in the Campus Center with poster boards, paper and art supplies for people to make signs about rape culture. The hope is that this will be an interactive event that allows students to express their frustrations with rape culture.

The Week of Action will also feature educational workshops run by the Center for Women and Community on Thursday for students who want to learn what they can do to change the mindset and culture.

The week will conclude on Friday at 4:30 p.m. with a march through the different residential areas on campus and then to the Student Union for a rally that will include various public speakers, demonstrating the group’s commitment to ending rape culture on campus and throughout the world.

The Coalition’s events are being organized through a Facebook group, in addition to emails and a word-of-mouth campaign.

“We want the UMass campus to recognize that we exist in a rape culture and to have an open space to talk about this issue and help change our campus for the better,” said Talkin.

Earlier in the year, the group hosted a letter writing campaign where students shared their personal experience with rape culture. The campaign was followed by an open mic night where some of the letter, some of which were emotional, were read for an audience of over 150 people.

Brian Bevilacqua can be reached at [email protected]. Katie Landeck can be reached at [email protected]


15 Responses to “Student group raises awareness of rape culture on campus”

  1. N. on February 21st, 2013 10:36 pm

    …buzzword of the month; can someone explain what “rape culture” is supposed to mean in less PC-jargon-laden language please? I have heard feminists assert that a consensual sexual act can become rape (or ‘assault’) retroactively if one of the participants (and it’s implied if rarely said outright that this means specifically a female in an encounter with a male) changes her mind about her choices after the fact. These kind of absurd ideas may help the activist-minded whip people up about an extremely emotionally charged issue, but that is no excuse for the fact that this not only doesn’t make anyone safer, it completely muddies and belittles the issue. It also reinforces the idea that men are naturally aggressors and women are naturally helpless victims, who unlike males have no agency and are not responsible for their choices. Whom does this sense of victimhood serve? I would like to see something positive in this but with such inane rhetoric flying around I really don’t see the point. If there isn’t an intelligible definition of rape then what on earth is its culture supposed to be?


  2. hm? on February 22nd, 2013 1:44 am

    Talking about a rape culture seems to me like a bad idea. It practically screams “no personal responsibility required,” with regard to rape. Not only does it scream this to girls, but even worse, it seems to scream it to the small population of depraved men out there who might take “rape culture” to mean that there are actually a lot more people out there who share the same views as they do. It also seems like a surefire way for society (and the rapists themselves) to absolve perpetrators of their guilt and responsibility. How soon do we have men claiming innocence (legally or otherwise) because the “rape culture” drove them to do it? How many men are already making similar excuses for themselves right now? I’m inclined to say that there’s no entrenched, illusory infrastructure ensconcing rape in our culture and coercing otherwise innocent people to commit heinous acts. Rape is abject, criminal, and those who commit such an act are alone responsible for their actions and should be held accountable as such.


  3. Crystal on February 22nd, 2013 10:49 am

    N., how would you define rape culture? Do you believe that women should have equal rights as men? If yes, then you are a feminist.
    What are the different privileges that men have in this society that women or people of other genders do not (given by institutions such as the government, etc.)?

    Dear hm?: how does not talking about the issue mean “no personal responsibility required”? I think that talking about the issue means the opposite; everyone needs to be held accountable to consent before any sexual activity. It seems to me that you are saying that rape is done by random strangers in the allyway who rape innocent victims. In reality, most rapists are usually friends, family, or other people close to survivors of rape.

    Rape culture is perpetuated by all people in small ways everyday. Here’s one example. have you ever called someone a “bitch” or a “slut” before? If yes, then you have helped perpetuate rape culture.

    I urge you both to think about your social identities. Also, think about how structures set up by society give different amounts of privilege and oppression to individuals based on their social identities.


  4. Nicole Mitchell on February 22nd, 2013 11:05 am

    I am a student at UMass and also a rape crisis counselor at the Center for Women and Community on campus. One really profound fact that I have learned in doing this work is that the “guy who jumps out of the bushes and attacks you” is more or less a myth about rape – this kind of stranger rape is less than 5% of all assaults. This is an obvious example of someone taking control of another person’s body and disregarding her autonomy and freedom to say no. A less obvious example of this would be with someone who originally consented, but changed her mind. If the man (or any person) proceeded without any regard for that “no,” then that is rape as well, because he, like the stranger rapist, is taking control of this person’s body and disregarding her right to say no, her right to have control over her own body. The fact that the first person commenting on this article feels that the above example isn’t actually rape is exactly what rape culture is all about – a normalization of rape supported by a culture that makes everyone think that the only kind of legitimate rape is stranger rape.

    In my experience as a rape crisis counselor, many women have no idea that their rape wasn’t their fault. Wearing a certain outfit or getting drunk is NEVER an excuse to take away someone else’s control over their own body. It is not a justification for raping them – nobody deserves to be raped, period. I’m sick and tired of people saying “Well it’s her fault, she shouldn’t have worn that or drunk that or went to that party.” I’m sick of it because why doesn’t anyone say to the men who rape these women that they need to have more personal responsibility? Nobody does, and that is a part of rape culture. It normalizes these experiences for men and silences victims by saying it’s their fault. I’m also aware that many women don’t use our services because they have been taught by society that the only legitimate rape is stranger rape. I continue, all the time, to meet women who have experienced non-consensual sex in ways that, according to society, “aren’t legitimate” and I’ve come to the conclusion through this work that non-consensual sex is more of a rule than an exception.

    Using the term “rape culture” isn’t an effort to victimize women or to blame all men. The term rape culture is used to talk about the way both women and men, and everyone, are socialized to think about rape. Rape culture includes not just the “men who jump out of the bushes” but also men who are socialized to act and think certain ways about sex and who may be committing non-consensual acts unintentionally based on what they know – based on what the media tells them and what a rape culture tells them is “normal.” Talking about rape culture and consent is NECESSARY in order to educate both men and women about consent so that we can create a future of consensual sex for everyone.


  5. N. on February 22nd, 2013 4:16 pm

    As far as changing one’s mind after the fact, that is absolutely not what I said, I meant after the fact as in, after all of it has happened, not part-way through. The next day or what have you.


  6. Will Henriksen on February 22nd, 2013 6:11 pm

    N, what exactly was the point of your statement? I agree that the article is more jargon-filled than insightful. I don’t, however, see what’s useful about pointing out the fact that there’s probably someone somewhere who calls himself or herself a “feminist” and feels that a woman should be able to call fully consensual sex “rape” after the fact. Could you point to an article written by a person with such views?
    One of the most important reasons for fighting against “rape culture” is to make sure that people feel comfortable saying “no” to sex. Sometimes people give physical signs of not wanting to have sex, but never actually says “no.” There’s not always a clear line between consensual sex and rape in these cases, and someone might argue that they were raped after saying “no” with body language. They might be unsure at the time, and not decide that this was the case until days or weeks or years after the fact. The point, I think, is that we need to create a climate where people 1) feel comfortable saying “no,” and 2) are willing and able to observe a verbal or physical “no.”


  7. Nicole Mitchell on February 22nd, 2013 7:06 pm

    N. – Another prominent aspect of rape culture is the notion that women frequently lie and make up rape incidents.
    Again, speaking as a rape crisis counselor, the idea that women just make up rape is simply not true. I can’t say that individual cases haven’t happened, but more often that just isn’t a reality.

    This is an important part of rape culture, because it is what perpetuates it. When society thinks that women are prone to lying about rape, then people who are actually victims get silenced – while their perpetrators walk away with no penalties. Then the cycle continues. And here’s another tidbit I’ve gained from doing this work: Almost every person that I have spoken to about their rape in the past year felt silenced. They felt like they couldn’t tell anyone, for fear of people not believing them. Nearly every single one of them felt like it was their fault. If that doesn’t scream “rape culture” to you, then I don’t know what to tell you.


  8. N. on February 22nd, 2013 8:58 pm

    And Crystal, as long as you’re leaving such flammable strawmen lying around: 1) no, I do not support gender or sex-based discrimination, and no, I am not a feminist. The former statement has a negative content and the second a positive one, it is not merely anti-sexism but pro-femininity. I think the entire way in which we conceive of and enact gender and sexuality is messed up in a way that feminism in general doesn’t even begin to address (and that I don’t really even have room to address here), but reinforces the false categories, maybe asking for a new balance of power between them – as I tried to indicated above. And 2) you don’t know anything AT ALL about me, my body, my history, my identity, etc. how dare you patronizingly suggest i “think about my social identity” (presumably, that if I extended this minimal mental effort I would have to say that you are right about everything)? This is equivalent to me saying to you “well, you’ve been socialized as a woman, so you obviously don’t understand. Just think about that for a while, and then you’ll see that I’m right.”
    Feminists, like most other -ists, are people who want a side to fight for, but not necessarily to think about what, why or how it is they are fighting…


  9. Educated on February 24th, 2013 10:42 am

    A lot of rapes, although rarely reported, actually happen /within/ committed relationships, where the man thinks that because this woman is his girlfriend, he has the right to sex with her whenever he wants. The solution to these problems is education. Before I learned about rape culture and sexual violence, I didn’t know what was what, and I didn’t know how to properly behave in a relationship. Our culture tells us that when a man is dating or married to a woman, sex is mandatory. This is false–when a woman says no, it means NO, regardless who she says it to. Before I learned about these things, I behaved in ways I am ashamed to have behaved. We need to educate everyone, especially children, about how to act, because these days men are told that these things are totally okay. Anyone who denies that there is a rape culture at work enforcing and legitimizing acts of sexual violence is completely delusional. Please “like” the Coalition to End Rape culture, and be a part of the solution!


  10. Dr. Ed Cutting on February 26th, 2013 1:37 am

    Nicole, I remember the 1999-2000 school year at UMass and the hysteria about the “Campus Pond Rapist” who never existed. The whole thing was a hoax — a politically motivated hoax. And it didn’t add up at the time, there were way too many things that were inconsistent but no one ever bothered to confuse themselves with the facts.


  11. Dr. Ed Cutting on February 26th, 2013 11:25 am

    I just realized that most people reading the above were in grade school during that terrible fall/winter, so here is a brief summary.
    First alleged rape — late October, just after dark on a weekday when people are walking back from their last class, on the path along the side of the campus pond (this before the construction when it was all open and there was unrestricted visibility). Allegedly a woman was raped by a perp wearing a black ski mask — and not only was it impossible to find anyone who had seen anything, even a guy wearing a ski mask (unusual on a warm evening) and there was a drug dealer who sold to students while wearing a black ski mask — and of all the reports, this is the one that might have actually happened, although I still think it was more related to either drugs or a drug debt.
    Second report (11-9-99) was a clear hoax, a woman claimed to have been dragged off the pond spillway and into what had been a lovely patch of (in spring) quite pretty Rhododendron bushes. This in broad daylight on a weekday with lots of folks hanging around the Student Union — but it had rained that morning, and this is important. Two days later, Veterans’ Day on an empty campus, as I was on the scene and composing a “fire & brimstone” editorial condemning the administration for letting this happen, I suddenly realized that it hadn’t — that it couldn’t have happened.
    I’m a hunter, I chase deer with a gun and they are very good at running away, they are far more adept at running through the underbrush than an adult human. I realized that a deer would have to go around those Rhododendron, would instinctively know that they were too thick to get through, but if in a panic tried to anyway, would have left a very visible trail. Rhododendrons are quite brittle in the fall and if you know what to look for, a trail of broken branches and torn leaves is as visible as gang graffiti painted onto the side of a building.
    If she had voluntarily walked into those bushes, there would have been a path I could have seen two days later, and there wasn’t; if she had consensual sex in the middle of the bushes, there also would have been broken branches and such where that had occurred — the foliage was so dense (before PPlant took the chain saws to it) that the mere presence of two people there would have broken a lot of branches. While lack of a struggle doesn’t mean it isn’t a rape, she had reported that she had been violently dragged off the sidewalk and into the bushes — yet there wasn’t the damage one would see had she carefully walked in there, alone. QED, it hadn’t happened.
    While they didn’t admit it, the UMPD command already knew something else – remember the early morning rainstorm. When the cops went out looking for evidence *after* receiving her report, they came back with wet clothes because the bushes were still wet from the morning’s rain — yet the clothes the victim said she was wearing when raped (in said wet bushes) were dry. If the cop’s clothes got wet several hours later, after the bushes had dried somewhat, if her clothes had been in there earlier, they would have gotten wet as well. QED the clothes hadn’t been in the bushes – and if she had been wearing them as she claimed, she hadn’t been either.
    A third incident involved two women who alleged that they had eluded a bicycle-riding rapist — this had occurred on Fearing Street behind T-6 (Washington) and they gave two completely different stories to the cops, one reporting the perp fleeing uphill and the other downhill after they got away.
    The fourth was something that would have challenged the abilities of a Navy SEAL and isn’t exactly something that one would expect a college woman to be able to do — a woman reported being attacked by three men on the same spillway sidewalk by the campus pond. This was in the evening. After having been sprayed in the face with pepper spray and having one of her earrings ripped off her in the struggle, she was able to both disarm one of the perps (take a knife away from him) but run away from all three of them — running through where the construction is now, over to the HELP phone by the Franklin Dining Commons.
    It gets better — even though there were no street lights there at the time (it was a dark area, the lights were added later), she was able to read the brand name of the pepper spray she was sprayed with. And the two police officers standing in the area neither saw nor heard anything.
    Then there was the 30-second elevator rape — while that happened later in the spring, I am putting it here. On a cold February night, a woman (wearing coat and rest) returned to her dorm and reportedly was raped in a 30 second elevator ride — the cops timed the ride and it was 29-30 seconds every time. And there also was none of the forensic evidence of sexual activity.
    Police shift change is at 7AM and calls that come in after 6:30 or so are usually held over to the next shift and responded to an hour later. About 7AM (7:03 comes to memory) there was a 911 call of a woman screaming in Southwest and I’m guessing that this was going to be another hoax, with the added issue of how long it took the police to respond. But the cops were p***ed and really wanted to catch this (nonexistent) perp and *both* shifts went down there. They scoured Southwest and couldn’t find any woman anywhere — screaming or not — it was before dawn on a cold morning and everyone was still asleep.
    That was the day of the infamous “Rally Against Rape” and there were so many police cars (State Troopers, etc) that they ran out of sidewalks and lawns to park them on, having to leave some of them in the travel lanes of North Pleasant Street. A woman with two prior suicide attempts (that I knew of), both on campus within the prior year and involving the use of a knife, parked her vehicle by the Franklin Dining Commons, sliced up her face, and ran (bloody & screaming) over to the rally at the Student Union.
    It would be an understatement to say that people freaked out. But she told one story to the ambulance crew and another to the cops, and even if they hadn’t known about the two prior suicide attempts, her stories were completely different in ways that indicated fabrication. The cops don’t believe her so she hires an attorney who threatens to sue UMass if the UMPD doesn’t tell everyone that what she says happened actually did — so they do.
    The then-DA bullies a lot of people (including myself) into neither mentioning her name nor investigating this beyond the official press releases. A *lot* of people knew exactly who she was and that this was all a hoax — but kept quiet. And in hindsight, I wish that I had printed her name in the watered-down editorial that I wrote for the now-defunct Minuteman.
    About six weeks later, after negotiations with her attorney, she goes into the psych ward and it is announced that this whole thing was a hoax. Of course she wasn’t prosecuted for “filing a false police report” — the UMPD only brings those charges against heterosexual conservatives. And I am not mentioning her name now because it will serve no public good — but to those questioning the validity of what I am saying, the senior people in places like Women&Community and Disability Services know who she is, and that all the above is true.
    Some argued that this hoax was a good thing because it increased awareness about rape. I argued something quite different – the UMass campus is large with lots of remote, dark & scary areas and if you tell all the creeps & perverts in 6 states that all the cops are by the Campus Pond, that also tells them that they won’t be any place else, and how does that make a woman walking to her car in Lot 11 any safer?


  12. Gretchen Roth on February 26th, 2013 3:04 pm

    N. Your statement “1) no, I do not support gender or sex-based discrimination, and no, I am not a feminist” demonstrates a lack of understanding as to what feminism actually means. Defined as “The advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men,” your response is simply a contradiction of itself. If it is patronizing for one to encourage you to consider your social identity, then I’m sure it is downright totalitarian to encourage you to research your argument before publishing it online, especially in regards to an especially sensitive and charged issue.

    Jargon aside, rape culture is real and it is dangerous. That people find it so easy to dismiss it as overly radical or nutty is just another manifestation of the rape culture. It is patriarchy that defines men as aggressors and women as hapless. I find your comments incredibly inappropriate only for their lack of accuracy. We are here to make the campus and the community safer and more just,and comments like your own make that job harder for us.


  13. Dr Watson on February 26th, 2013 8:08 pm

    What is rape culture? Do people really think all men think it’s okay to force a woman against her will regarding anything? Even the most extreme normal guy (IE non-rapist) would recognize this as assault, something else that is illegal, even if it wasn’t something illegal. It is the sickos and perverts who think this is okay, IE a group of men AND women less than one tenth of one percent of the population.

    On another note; as a guy I choose to distance myself from these anti-rape movements because I feel I am often persecuted, villified, and am the one stuck as the wrong target of anger. I find all rapists disgusting cowards not worthy of being called human. However whenever I went to a meeting ending this culture, etc, I hated being told I was “part of the problem/perpetuator of the culture/etc” merely because of my gender. It is a serious problem that is alienating so many allies because these groups do not realize they are discriminatory. It is not the fault of men, or women. It is not a culture. It is something to be fought against like a disease, by eliminating the sources, taking preventative steps, working with professionals to better society, and helping the victims if they are attacked.


  14. N. on March 5th, 2013 8:09 pm

    Will, I think you got my point exactly, that by talking over and over about a “culture” that controls and influences everyone’s actions, people are inclined to feel trapped in roles as victims. It becomes just too easy to point to the ‘culture’ instead of having any sort of personal responsibility. Why did he do that? Why didn’t she say something? Suddenly we aren’t considering particular events and individuals’ choices in their own right but as broad abstraction. Of course there is a context to all these events and choices and I hope that is how you and most people are looking at this ‘culture’ issue. I just think the way it is being characterized is weird, impersonal, abstract, and ultimately not helpful.
    Bringing me to Nicole’s second comment. I don’t know where you see me endorsing the canard that reports of rape are ‘frequently’ fabrications, but whom exactly does it serve if one ALWAYS believes such accusations? What kind of ‘culture’ is that? Has it occurred to anyone that accusations of what would now be considered sexual assault or sexual harassment were a huge part of the culture of lynching of African American men in the 19th and 20th centuries? Maybe 50 years ago the dominant culture went the other way for non-black-on-white rape allegations, and victim-blaming prevailed, and I’m not saying by any means that it doesn’t still in some corners, clearly very much so, but equally clearly, things aren’t the same. Nowadays accusations mean cops, trials, newspaper articles, rallies. You simply can’t say that no one takes sexual assault seriously or that this is why more people don’t come out and talk about it.
    So why is it that this seems to be the case? This is something I tried to bring up in my first comment. Today’s feminist movement has expanded the definition of rape – now often also called ‘sexual assault’ to both indicate a broadened definition and I imagine to smooth some of the cognitive dissonance. I just don’t see how it helps. As in the example I gave, making a decision and regretting it later doesn’t mean that a person had no choice in the matter at the time, and it doesn’t mean they’re lying about feeling violated, but it still really doesn’t mean that something was done against their will, either. Statements like Will’s that “there is not always a clear line between consensual sex and rape” (!) I think illustrates the kind of confusion produced here.
    I would also like to briefly note that I agree strongly with Educated’s comment, and Gretchen, if you think the definition you give is a perfectly accurate and complete characterization of what ‘feminism’ is, who knows, you may want to take a few more women’s studies classes or something, because I find it pretty ironic that you would call me ignorant on that point. Even if etymology isn’t your strong suit it should be obvious that there are a lot of ways to look at the concept. I don’t think you can say my comment is self-contradictory if you are dismissing it out of the gate because our definition’s don’t match without considering its meaning and implications.


  15. mason on March 6th, 2013 5:44 pm

    I think any discussion regarding rape should be a productive discussion. Are their hoaxs or false resports claiming rape, yes, is it prevalent of reported rape crimes in general, no and the argument used to make such a outrageous and offensive claim is based upon anecdotes not facts. It’s sad that people have taken incidents of violent crime and useed it to attack those who are victims of rapes and those who are putting forth a serious effort to reduce rape in our society.

    I commend the rally and I appreciate the energy and dedication the women and men in that rally have shown and will continue to show. Rape is an under-discussed issue and part of the change necessary will be to change the social understanding and view of rape. Only once as a group of people do we fully acknowledge it’s presence, can we begin to take the steps necessary to change it.


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