I just finished reading Gloria Steinem’s book “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions,” which is primarily a collection of various writings and stories by her over the years, and at the end of the book, she, like a good organizer, includes a call to action. She asks every feminist to commit one outrageous act everyday. She says that these outrageous acts can be big or small, but it has to be something that challenges our oppressive and patriarchal culture. So today my outrageous act is this: I believe the Rolling Stone story about the student at UVA who was gang-raped by members of a fraternity. I believe her and I believe that this happened to her. I will choose to believe the victim of abuse, and I will vehemently deny the rape culture machine that tells me to doubt her.
I believe her, not necessarily because she remembers the encounter with 100% accuracy or that Rolling Stone reported the event with 100% accuracy, but I believe her because we must stop blaming the victim, and we, as women, must stop blaming ourselves for acts of sexual violence committed against us. We must start to believe that sexual violence occurs ALL THE TIME at frat parties, bars, and house parties. (Ask any young woman and either she or a close friend has been a victim of sexual violence). We must start to believe that the men (and sometimes women) who commit these acts of sexual violence are our neighbors, our friends, and our mentors. We must STOP using the phrase “but he/she would never do something like that” as an excuse not to believe the victim when she or he names the assailant. And finally, we must stop expecting colleges and universities to investigate these crimes because they are CRIMES. And as a crime, sexual assault on campus should be reported to the police. And yes, I understand that victims usually do not want to report the crime, but a campus should seek to create an environment that encourages victims to come forward to the police and does not protect the attacker.
The public reaction to the Rolling Stone piece honestly did not surprise me because that vehement denial and victim blaming is what rape culture does. The public found every possible excuse, avenue and way to blame the victim instead of the perpetrator. But our job as feminists, those who believe in and will fight for justice and equity for all, is to believe the victim because by believing only by believing the victim can we begin to dismantle the system. And of course, we must be vocal, open and public about our support of victims. So once again, I believe her (and every other victim of sexual assault who came forward yesterday and tomorrow).