By Nabi DeAngulo
I sat in the crowded auditorium in restless anticipation of something I’ve long awaited: someone to speak up on Eastern’s campus about sexual violence. The path towards breaking the silence can be so difficult and lonesome that hearing a survivor like Koestner can be very encouraging. Katie Koestner’s story exposed and challenged the ingrained patriarchal and victim-blaming mindset so common within the Christian community. Although controversy and debate was expected after her speech, I was shocked to hear comments by fellow classmates showing their compliance with and apathy towards sexual assault. This reaction demonstrates not only widespread ignorance about sexual crimes but also the rape-culture on Eastern’s campus that makes it highly unsafe for victims to speak up.
One of the criticisms made by students has been that Koestner’s speech only represented one side of this sensitive issue. This may be true, but this is to be expected because the point of the speech was for Koestner to tell her story, not the story of her aggressor. This criticism is common among people who are obsessed with justifying the actions of rapists through “victim-blaming” or “rape-splaining”. By delegitimizing the victim’s story, they consciously choose to listen and promote the “side” of the story that makes it safe for aggressors to continue raping without consequence.
Koestner was raped after a date with someone she thought to be the man of her dreams. It was frustrating to hear students concluding that she “asked for it.” Comments like “she should have known better” or “she shouldn’t have put herself in that position” and “she’s making it up” are the most common examples of rape-splaining, which have the very powerful effect of silencing victims and leaving rapists free to repeat their crime.
Once again, the predator succeeded in convincing people that the victim is to blame. And instead of being outraged at the fact that this man pinned her down on the floor and raped her, we have students questioning whether the two sips of wine might have made Koestner “worthy” of rape.
Koestner bravely shared her story and exposed the mental entrapment some rapists use to capture their victims. Those students who “agreed with [Katie’s] father”, blaming her for the rape, and those who thought that giving 45 minutes of their life to hear her story was a “waste of time,” have made it clear to one fourth of their female friends and classmates that they too will side with their rapists.
But to all of these women and men who have or will experience campus rape, I say to them, you are not alone. There are more people who are asking you to break the silence; it is only brave stories like Koestner’s that address rape and push for policies that not only hold the aggressor responsible, but also create a culture that gives no space for aggressors to commit such crimes in the first place. Breaking the silence is painful, but it is more painful not to break it. The only way to overcome this victim blaming culture, responsible for the conspiracy of silence and complicity with sexual aggressors, is by standing up like Koestner did.