Monthly Archives: September 2012

First Impressions Count: Campus Safety from a Survivor’s Perspective

By Michelle Spradling, Guest Blogger and Project Director of the Sexual Assault Interagency Council in Denver

Originally posted at and re-blogged with permission from the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CCASA)

More than any season, fall brings nostalgic feelings of excitement and anticipation. I am certain this is a direct result of 17 years of “back to school” shopping trips, class schedule-comparing, and no. 2 pencil sharpening. Fall is the season of change, with leaves turning into delicate crisps of mahogany and new classes, friends, and the promise of a whole year’s worth of experiences waiting to be realized.

Although exactly ten years have passed, I still remember starting my freshman year of college, which was prefaced by a summer of accumulating boxes, squirrelling school supplies and reading college survival guides. I will never forget saying goodbye to my best friend and how we said we would IM and call each other, “like, all the time.” And I will never forget how arriving 10 hours and two states away from the only life I ever knew was nothing short of awesome.

Recognizing Campus Safety Month in September is obviously deliberate: get the message out about the dangers of alcohol, campus shootings, theft, fire safety, and sexual assault the minute students disembark on the quad. More importantly, the beginning of school is memorable and serves as a golden opportunity to imprint the vital messages students carry with them throughout their college careers and beyond.

Although subtle, I wouldn’t realize the weight of the messages I learned during the first month of college until January of the following year. Exactly one week in to the second semester, I was raped. In the interest of time: he was a trusted acquaintance and fellow Greek member. I was at a party where I had been drinking and my friends had gone home, accidentally taking my cell phone and dorm key with them. In the aftermath of the assault, I felt painstakingly alone, ashamed and responsible. As I considered my next move, I tried to recall anything about what I was told to do in the prior months, but could only recall the following references to sexual assault from my weeklong orientation class:

1.       Our orientation class discussion about sexual assault was brief.  While sitting in a shady spot under a tree near the student center, we flipped our student handbooks to the crime report statistics which showed one sexual assault was reported during the previous school year. Our orientation leader informed us that of course this is not a real number since most victims do not report.

The Message: You’re probably not supposed to report a sexual assault—unless you want to really stand out.

2.       Campus Police presented about self-defense classes and the After Dark police escort service, which would shepherd any student to their car after a late night class or past the big scary oak tree by the Science building.

The MessageWomen shouldn’t walk alone on campus at night.*

*Two months later, as I was leaving to walk to my sorority house for a pledging activity,  I ran in to a nice guy that frequented the floor of my dorm. He offered to walk with me, as it was after dark and “there are a lot of creeps out there”. I didn’t mind the company, so I accepted his offer. The next time I saw him was through the glass of the study room on my floor, chatting with the cops. It turns out he had been stalking a girl down the hall. I realized I was better off walking alone at night.

3.       The Resident Advisor came in to my dorm room and tossed a “Red Zone” packet on my bed and explained that the start of the school year until Thanksgiving is the most dangerous time for women on campus. Inside the packet were statistics, phone numbers to the rape crisis center, and a keychain rape whistle.

The Message: Mark a commemorative date on the calendar for December 1 to celebrate not being raped. Also keys are now a weapon against violence and shouldn’t be left unattended.

4.       Many times we were warned by both the orientation leader and Resident Advisor that the campus is dry. Don’t drink, don’t stash alcohol in your closet, and don’t even try returning to your dorm drunk. You will get caught and disciplined accordingly.

The Message: The campus is dry. Don’t get caught drinking. It’s safer to go off campus to drink and use the stairwell instead of the elevators when returning to your room. And if you find yourself without your dorm key at 4AM and you’ve been drinking, your only option is to use the emergency call box to dispatch an officer to open the door for you. Unless you want to risk being arrested for underage drinking and kicked out of school, it’s probably “safer” to stay off-campus at a fraternity house, with a guy who will ultimately rape you.

Looking back, I realized that what I didn’t learn in those formative weeks was a message about how survivors of sexual assault are believed, encouraged to seek help and supported by the institution. I hadn’t learned what constituted rape, but had instead received mixed messages about perpetrators being known to the victim while at the same time being handed a rape whistle. I, like most survivors, struggled internally with defining my assault: It didn’t seem like rape because I hadn’t heard of anyone who had experienced anything similar.  While I did ultimately find a culture of support from university administrators, counselors and police, I disclosed with a delay, slowly and reluctantly, and only after I had been reassured by trusted friends (and later a rape crisis advocate), that I had been sexually assaulted, it wasn’t my fault, and I would not be in trouble.

This September, alongside fire extinguisher demonstrations and sexual assault prevention education (bystander only, please), ensure that your definitions of “sexual assault awareness” and “campus safety” include consent descriptions and a component of emotional safety for sexual assault survivors. Because not all sexual assaults can be prevented, send the message early that your school is a place where students can feel safe talking about, intervening in, and disclosing sexual violence—and subsequently where perpetrators do not feel welcome.

Michelle Spradling is the Project Director of the Sexual Assault Interagency Council in Denver. She also speaks publicly about her experience as a survivor and is co-chair of the Crime Victim Advisory Council, a group of crime victims who work educate the community on the personal and societal impact of violent crime.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sexual Violence, Violence Against Women

Easy, ‘Breezy’, and Not So Beautiful: What Chris Brown’s New Tattoo Says About Our Society’s Tolerance of Domestic Violence

  by Katie Reyzis

As much as I try to remove myself from the gossip-laden world of pop-culture, the story of Rihanna and Chris Brown hits closer and closer to home for me with every update. To make a long story short, a verbal dispute between Rihanna and her then-boyfriend Brown, also known as ‘Breezy’, escalated to physical violence and resulted in assault charges against Brown in early 2009. Brown pled guilty to felony assault and the couple split, but media coverage of the incident continued as rumors surfaced about their reunion and their professional collaborations in music.

Through my work and experience with women’s issues, I have been exposed to the issue of domestic violence time and time again. While each situation may present different details about the people involved and the type of abuse, there are many overarching principles that remain the same. Chief among them is a concept known as the ‘cycle of violence,’ which I think has been largely ignored in the media’s coverage of Rihanna and Brown’s tumultuous relationship.

When the most recent articles about Brown were brought to my attention, I expected yet another aggressive comment on Twitter or something along the lines of that one chair-throwing incident.

Holy moly, I must say I didn’t see this one coming.

Brown’s latest contribution to the tabloids was released two days ago, when he was photographed with his newest tattoo of what at first glance appears to be a battered woman and bears a striking resemblance to his ex-girlfriend. While he claims that the image is art to represent a Mexican holiday called Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the tattoo’s resemblance to Rihanna is uncanny. Even despite the most recent affirmations from Brown’s tattoo artist that the tattoo was in fact an illustration of art, I am not convinced that Brown’s motives were purely creative. The placement of the tattoo coupled with Brown’s history of violence and continuous lack of remorse for his actions make me skeptical that he isn’t just looking to brag about his apparent immunity to punishment for his actions.

While Brown’s tattoo may truly be an artistic illustration of a M.A.C. cosmetic design, it still begs the question – why did a convicted felon of domestic assault choose to get a highly visible tattoo that can at best be described as a female face that has either been beaten or is “half dead”? And why is it that instead of Brown, Rihanna tends to be the one who catches the heat for the back and forth rumors that she and Brown are getting back together?

Rihanna, affectionately dubbed ‘RiRi’ by the press, may be a pop-singer and a high-fashion icon, but her personal exposure to domestic violence makes her like 1 in every 4 women in this country who experience physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by their intimate partners, family members, roommates, and other loved ones. Furthermore, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that, “Females who are 20-24 years of age are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.” Rihanna fits into the statistics so neatly that her story should come as no surprise, but the media’s coverage and, subsequently, our society’s response to this issue remains stagnantly ignorant and it is time to catch up with the times.

Critics in the Public Relations field claim that Rihanna’s response and continued connection to Breezy demonstrates the normalization of domestic violence, but I argue to the contrary. I think that by blaming Rihanna, her critics are in fact the ones contributing to said normalization and disregarding a central component of abusive relationships, the aforementioned cycle of violence.

The cycle of violence is comprised of four phases, which form a pattern of abusive behavior: 1.) Tension Building 2.) Incident 3.) Reconciliation and 4.) Calm. These phases revolve in a circular paradigm that makes leaving an abusive situation extremely difficult, particularly when that situation, like Rihanna’s, involves an intimate partner. Although some critics of the cycle of violence state that it isn’t applicable to all intimate partner violence, it is a helpful tool for the public to explain how a person’s psyche and willpower can be broken down and how it can be incredibly difficult to leave an abuser. The psychological, emotional, and physical implications of this pattern are vastly complicated, and Rihanna’s status as a popular icon is a chance to highlight a horribly invasive issue in our daily lives and educate the public about domestic violence.

Sadly, the social reaction to the Rihanna – Brown saga has been disappointing to say the least. For instance, in March 2012, a steakhouse in Georgia had the audacity to create a ‘black and blue’ sandwich as a parody to the incident. The ‘cleverly’ titled sandwich certainly elicited quite a negative retort and an eventual apology from the restaurant, but this was not the first or the last disappointing play on words about the episode.

Just last month, comedian Joan Rivers tweeted the following message to Rihanna directly, “Rihanna confessed to Oprah Winfrey that she still loves Chris Brown. Idiot! Now it’s MY turn to slap her.” As repulsed as I am by Rivers’ remark, I am even more disappointed that her view, in various capacities, is shared by the media, the general public, and my own circle of friends.

As someone who due to her age and gender fits so neatly into the statistical risk factors for domestic violence as Rihanna, I am appalled by critics’ reactions to this situation and disappointed by the fact that coverage of her story has not taken a different angle. For instance, why, instead of criticizing Rihanna’s coping mechanisms with her love of an abusive ex-boyfriend, are we not focusing on how this story demonstrates that domestic violence can affect everyone, even the wealthiest, prettiest, and most famous people in our society? This could have been a chance to underscore a crucial issue and, most importantly, accentuate the cycle of violence that is so common among those 1 in 4 women who are faced with domestic violence. I purposely repeat this statistic twice to draw attention to that fact that it is highly likely that someone you know has experienced it as well.

Yet, despite my loathing of Brown’s actions in this case and the media’s uninformed coverage of this issue, it is important to consider that Brown doesn’t exactly have the statistics on his side either.

The NCADV indicates that “Children witnessing domestic violence and living in an environment where violence occurs may experience some of the same trauma as abused children.”  By the same token, “Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.”  Brown’s mother has been very candid about her history of domestic abuse and very supportive of the steps her son has taken to right his wrongs, but the fact remains that his history cannot excuse his actions in adulthood.

The facts are simple: We know domestic violence exists in America. We know that no one is exempt from it. We know we can report it and speak out against it. So why do we tolerate it?

Even if Rihanna and Brown really did laugh about all this ‘erroneous’ media coverage of the tattoo that resembles a face very similar to hers, the moral of this story is that her brush with domestic abuse and Brown’s unapologetic demeanor are far from unique. Belittling Rihanna’s emotional struggle and continued feelings of love toward her abuser only heighten the obstacles domestic violence victims face in coming forward and seeking assistance.

In my ideal world, I would emphasize a few reforms to the current status of this story in the media:

First, let’s show our understanding for someone in Rihanna’s situation, that leaving an abusive relationship is not black and white and takes many times to leave and return before finally leaving.  Let’s not engage in blaming attitudes that place blame on the wrong person – the victim not the abuser. Shifting our focus away from the victim is crucial not only in the cases of celebrities in the media, but also in the very likely event that we are exposed to similar situations in our personal relationships with neighbors, co-workers, friends, or family members.

Second, let’s stop awarding Brown with Grammys and stop buying his records. How is it that Breezy remains unscathed from his well-deserved assault charges? Not only did he win a Grammy in 2012, he also performed at the Grammy Awards in front of a national audience. At the same time, fellow celebrity and football star Chad Ochocinco was held much more publicly accountable for battery charges as his TV show was cancelled and his contract with the Florida Dolphins was terminated.

It’s time we even out the playing field, take a stand against an issue that is so invasive in our everyday lives, and hold Brown accountable. So he was put on probation, his Got Milk ad was dropped and he was sentenced to some community service hours. Do those punishments fit the crime? Do those three things even fall in the category of ‘punishments?’

One of the most important ways to curb the prevalence of domestic violence is to set a strong precedent so that abusers are afraid of the consequences. As Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization for Women stated, “Young girls and boys watching this [Chris Brown’s trial] unfold on TV will see than men who commit violence against women practically go scot-free.”

Education and awareness about domestic violence and related issues is essential to fostering more healthy relationships in our communities and more resources for individuals who face these crimes in our world. Shifting society’s focus from the victim to the abuser and equipping the public with tools for avoiding and coping with the dangers of domestic violence is the key to prevention. Intolerance to the obvious implications of a continued lack of remorse from a convicted batterer like Chris Brown, artistic or otherwise, is step one on this high road.

5 Comments

Filed under Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Pop Culture, Violence Against Women