Hoax Must Prompt Greater Dialogue On Sexual Assault
In Light Of The Recent False Confession, Bystander Education Must Be Required For All Students
Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 3, 2013 00:10
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. Fifty-four percent of rapes are never reported to police. Ninety-seven percent of rapists never spend a day in prison. At orientation and throughout their time at Boston College, students are told that one in four women will be victims of rape or attempted rape during their lives. These statistics are generally well publicized, but often are not given the attention they deserve.
Boston College Confession No. 7122, which contained a detailed account of three separate alleged sexual assaults committed by the anonymous poster, was determined to be a hoax by BCPD and the Dean of Students Office (DSO)—but the fact that the post was fabricated does not change these statistics. Rather, it invites a continuing discussion on sexual assault and how BC as a community can respond to acts of sexual violence, alleged and actual.
Every year at the beginning of April, the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) hosts Concerned About Rape Education (CARE) Week, which features several events, including the annual Take Back the Night ceremony, dedicated to discussing sexual violence, rape culture, and the ways in which the community can support survivors of rape and sexual assault. This week rightly brings awareness to the problems that often arise on a college campus in relation to sexual violence, including intimate partner violence, date rape, and issues with consent. To its credit, the WRC strives to continue this conversation year-round through bystander education, various support groups, and outreach to survivors. But how can the University encourage these conversations to continue beyond one week per year?
The best and most tangible way is to require bystander education for all incoming freshmen and transfer students. At orientation each year, students have more than enough time available for an hour-long bystander education class followed by an hour-long discussion on the topic of sexual violence and how the BC community can be supportive of survivors. The discussion should highlight the many resources available on campus to students who require them, and allow for reflection on the often powerful and emotional bystander education class. This training should begin at orientation for the class of 2018 next summer.
The administrators of the BC Confessions page, the epicenter of the recent controversy, must also consider the role that the page plays on campus. The page’s initial intention, to allow harmless anonymous confessions that would serve to show that BC is perhaps not as perfect as the members of its community often pretend, was admirable in some ways. It allowed students to express discontent that they did not feel comfortable airing publicly, and in many cases, receive support from non-anonymous students who had experienced similar problems. But on Tuesday, the page degenerated into the worst possible form of anonymous confession, allowing an unknown student to mislead an entire student body.
The student administrators of the page should have considered the gravity of posting such a serious confession for the general public to see. Although obviously not all of the confessions that have been posted on the page are true, the administrators must assume that all of them are. If this particular confession had been true, three women may have found out the details of their sexual assault through Facebook, an incredibly inappropriate medium for such a serious topic. Any confession that refers to criminal activity that harms others should be withheld from the public page and referred to the proper authorities for investigation.
If these steps are not taken, if confessions about sexual assault or other serious crimes continue to be posted to BC Confessions, what message is the page sending to students who are victims of these crimes? It is certainly not supporting them, but is instead trivializing their struggles by placing them on a Facebook page next to confessions of crushes and Senior Fives.
Student responses to the confession were also mixed. On the one hand, many students decided to take the confession and make it into a point of discussion, bringing up important problems that college students face in relation to sexual violence. On the other hand, many students attacked the anonymous poster, berating the poster for the alleged crimes. Still other posts trivialized the confession, denying that the situations were rape and making inappropriate comments that perpetuate the rape culture on college campuses. The student responsible for the post obviously must be held accountable to the greatest extent possible for a drastic violation of the student code of conduct, a violation of the trust of an entire student body, and a generally appalling lie. The student body, however, must focus more on the future than on the past.
While the post was deemed a hoax, the situations described are not unrealistic. Although the post was found to be false, it just as easily could have been true. Indeed, for 12 hours, much of the student body believed it to be true, and that should make every student at BC deeply uncomfortable with the climate on this campus regarding sexual violence. Rape happens often on college campuses across the U.S., and BC is no exception. The post is now gone, but the issues of sexual violence remain and must be faced.