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SARU is a student-run advocacy group that supports all survivors of sexual violence and works to dismantle rape culture. The purpose of this blog is to share stories, current events, and insight from survivors and activists. Please like, share, and follow us for more updates.
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The Public Trial of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford by Mayuri Viswanathan

Cw: sexual violence

The outing and subsequent testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford demonstrate everything wrong with the way we treat survivors of sexual violence.

No party is blameless in this case. Dr. Ford sent her account of the assault in a letter to Sen. Diane Feinstein, with the explicit request that it remain confidential because she (very rightfully) feared for herself and for her family.

And someone on Feinstein’s staff leaked it.

Dr. Ford and her family have had to leave their home and move from place to place with a security team in tow. She has received death threats, had her personal information posted online, and had her email hacked. Then, she had to stand public trial as a prosecutor interrogated her in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the rest of the world.

Dr. Ford is a highly educated, wealthy, white professional. She has two Masters degrees and a PhD, and possesses every quality that is supposed to lend her credibility. And yet, somehow, we are STILL arguing about whether or not to believe Dr. Ford.

Watching her testimony was heart wrenching. She sat in front of flashing cameras and apathetic senators and bared her trauma, giving a calm, measured, and assured account of her assault. She knew that she, not her attacker, was the one on trial in that room, and that when she finished, a group of white men would sit around to pick apart her story and call her pain a façade.

Anita Hill was supposed to be a turning point. #MeToo was supposed to be a turning point. And yet here we are again, watching a woman have her life torn to pieces and cut herself open in front of millions of people, just to have the men who walk the halls of power discredit her, call her trauma a partisan issue, and conduct business as usual.

The New York Times reported this morning that Sen. Jeff Flake has committed to vote to confirm Kavanaugh, which will move Kavanaugh on to the Senate-wide vote. Business as usual.

It is time to hold violent men accountable for their violence. As long as we allow them to sit on their thrones, they will continue to play games and protect one another.

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford: Your courage is an inspiration to us. We see your pain and we feel it. We believe you. We stand with you. And we will fight to hold violence accountable.

Predatory Behavior Has No Place at the Party

content warning: sexual assault and alcohol intoxication, rape

Alcohol is the most widely used date-rape drug; 89 percent of assaults occur when the survivor is incapacitated due to alcohol. Sexual assault is never the fault of survivorsfinalfbimage copy, regardless of whether they were using drugs or alcohol (voluntarily or against their will). -American Association of University Women (AAUW)

Sexual Assault Should Not Be a “Risk” Associated With Drinking:

“‘People don’t get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them.” Even though alcohol is associated with sexual assault, it’s not actually a direct association. Getting intoxicated only leads to rape when there’s someone present to commit that rape. When you remove rapists from the equation, the risks of getting drunk — which, of course, do involve serious public health consequences — don’t include getting raped.” – Tara Culp-Ressler

Rapists Use Alcohol as a Tool to Discredit Their Victims:

We live in a country where it is safer to commit an act of rape than to publicly disclose having survived one. While the overwhelming majority of perpetrators face no consequences for their actions, the majority of survivors who speak out do” (The Monument Quilt). This is especially true in the case of survivors who were intoxicated during their assault. If they choose to report, survivors are questioned about why they got so drunk and why they went to the party. In court, defense attorneys use survivors’ intoxication and history with drugs and alcohol to discredit their stories. Among peers and family members, survivors are often blamed for drinking too much and accused of bringing the assault on themselves. Rapists target the most vulnerable, those that are the least likely to be believed. In cases involving alcohol, rapists seek out situations in which the victims’ level of intoxication will invalidate their experiences. This system works because we as a society silence and blame survivors rather than uplifting and believing them.


Alcohol and Consent FAQ:

At what point in drinking do people lose their ability to consent?

Consent must be informed, voluntary, mutual, and can be withdrawn at any time. This means that when sexual contact is forced, whether expressed or implied, or when coercion, intimidation, threats, or duress is used it is not consensual. Silence or absence of resistance does not imply consent, and past consent to sexual contact or activity does not imply ongoing or future consent. If a person is mentally or physically incapacitated from drinking to the point that they cannot understand the fact, nature, or extent of the sexual situation, they cannot consent. If they pass out or fall asleep during the course of the night, they cannot consent.

Alcohol affects everyone differently. There is no standardized number of drinks that pushes everyone to a certain level of incapacitation. The bottom line is that if you’re not sure someone can give consent as defined above, it’s best to wait until all participants have sobered up.

Should alcohol and sex be mixed at all?

Talk to your sexual partners about their levels of comfort with alcohol and sexual activity. Some people are comfortable having sex when they have been casually drinking but are not drunk, while others won’t want to mix the two activities at all. Just as every person’s body has a different alcohol tolerance, people have different levels of comfort with drinking and sex based on their preferences and past experiences.

Will you get in trouble for drinking if you report an assault that happened while intoxicated?

Under the new Hopkins Sexual Misconduct Policy — enacted as of Fall 2015 — students have amnesty from drug and alcohol-related sanctions when reporting a sexual assault. This applies to students under the age of 21 and/or living in student residence halls. The policy states, Sometimes individuals may be reluctant to report instances of sexual misconduct because they fear being charged with violations of other University policies, including those regarding alcohol or drugs. The University encourages students to report all instances of sexual misconduct. The University will not impose disciplinary action (except for a mandatory intervention for substance abuse) for a violation of student alcohol or drug policies for a student who reports to the University or law enforcement an incidence of sexual misconduct or who participates in an investigation of sexual misconduct as a witness.” The official policy in full can be found here.

“What if they’re both drunk?”
“Intoxication is not a defense for rape. Intoxication is not an exonerating circumstance. Failing to recognize that the victim is too drunk to consent is not a defense of sexual assault. This is what we need to remember: the responsibility for figuring out the other person’s mental state is on the initiator of the sexual act. If you want to get some, you have to be certain that they want to get some too. So if you are too drunk to confidently ascertain this information, you shouldn’t engage in these intimate acts.” —Paula Ethans, “Paula vs. Patriarchy”

Activism and Healing in the Public Eye by Ella Rogers-Fett

Photo by Naomi Bouchard
Photo by Naomi Bouchard

As a SARU advocate, I have had many opportunities to observe student responses to sexual assault advocacy on campus. A large part of SARU’s peer education activities are tabling events that attempt to educate students about consent, how to support survivors, or Title IX and Clery rights. During these activities, we generally receive some expressions of support for our work, with a few people eagerly asking questions. For the most part however, people slink by uncomfortably or giggle awkwardly when we attempt to engage them in conversation or pass on a flyer. In the worst cases, we have people that approach us with intent to dispute our displayed statistics or poke holes in our logic (“You say it’s not a girl’s fault if she gets raped while she’s dressed promiscuously, but would you say the same for a man who gets robbed while waving his wallet around?”) While we as activists regard this work as important, it can be draining and disheartening. Our conversations following such exchanges reveal a feeling of stagnancy: it seems we are having the same conversations over and over again without much progress. Furthermore, because many of us are survivors ourselves, it can feel like we’re constantly having to argue for our basic rights to safety and respect, even as others view these conversations as theoretical abstractions.

The daylong display of the Monument Quilt marked a palpable change in this atmosphere. Students stopped their daily routines, interrupting their walks to class to meander between the 450 quilt squares, respectfully reading survivors stories. Not more than 10 ft. away, in clear view of the campus’s central walkway, survivors gathered at an outside table to free-write and create their own quilt squares.

I’ve spent a long time reflecting on the space created by the Monument Quilt and attempting to dissect the radically different mood it brought with it. I kept coming back to a question raised at the Monument Quilt Leadership Retreat: to what extent is this project political versus therapeutic? After witnessing a display and facilitating workshops, I would argue that the innovation of the Monument Quilt is that it dissolves the usually distinct barriers between these two categories. In past SARU activities, we’ve sharply delineated our role as peer educators from our role supporting survivors. Our tabling events seeking to bust myths of rape culture or explain affirmative consent are held in different spaces and at different times from our closed “safe spaces” for survivors to share and receive support. The intention behind this division is to insulate survivors in the process of healing from the inconsiderate and at times hostile remarks from the general student population.

While I do believe there are contexts in which survivor-only spaces are healing and valuable, the quilt display has pushed me to consider the ways in which partitioning function and space can be harmful. Limiting advocacy to the public sphere and healing to the private sphere risks reproducing the problematic spatial politics of sexual assault in America. As the Monument Quilt website points out, our society “relegate[s] the process of healing from sexual trauma to the private realm.” Most resources, even the best ones (women’s shelters, rape crisis centers, therapist offices), are located away from the public eye. This lack of public representation of survivors and their on-going healing processes feeds several harmful misconceptions: that experiencing rape and abuse is shameful and must be dealt with behind closed doors, and that survivors don’t exist, are few in number, or look a certain way (ignoring people of color, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA people, elderly people, and men).

Monument Quilt displays explode the traditional boundaries of spaces for advocating on behalf of survivors and spaces for their personal healing. By taking the model of the safe space and expanding it to the size of a football field the therapeutic becomes necessarily political. The quilt creates a space where survivors can come together for support but also where they can function as political actors, publically appearing as survivors and thereby challenging the social stigma associated with their experience.

Such a space asks us to challenge our idea of survivors and the general student body as separate entities. People can approach the display and workshop as survivors, secondary survivors, or allies, allowing them to find their own way of seeing themselves in the issue. As a result, the quilting workshop drew students who had never set foot in previous activities directed more explicitly at survivors.

The space felt profoundly different for me as an organizer. I spoke with another activist following the event and we both shared a feeling of resolution between our roles as survivors and activists. We realized that as activists, we speak about abuse and sexual assault daily, but feel that we must censor our own experiences in an effort to appear objective and be taken seriously. The MQ challenges this assumption that good activism needs to be removed from personal experiences and instead suggests that we derive our power from our own subjective and emotionally charged connections to these issues. Activism can be healing and healing can be activism.