Campus NOW speak out exposes rape, sexual harassment, stalking, and male supremacy
Jenny Brown
February 1997

In a powerful indictment of male supremacy, woman after woman came to the microphone to share their pain and humiliation about things that men had done to them, and to share their strength and outrage at learning that they were not alone and not to blame. The UF/SFCC Campus National Organization for Women's speak-out against rape and sexual harassment on January 29 drew testimony from fifteen women. It was held at the Plaza of the Americas at UF. Speakers recalled sexual harassment from highschool teachers, rape by acquaintances, watching their fathers beat up their mothers, and humiliation and attacks from their boyfriends. And they talked about how to change the situation.

Campus NOW Rape Action Committee co-chair Kirsten Young launched the program with testimony about her experiences, in one case being threatened by men with guns who had broken into her apartment. "The fear of death is so cold, it's so endless, it's so utterly engulfing and exhausting" she said. "And when we experience the threat of male violence against us, this fear is always present. It doesn't matter who is threatening us, our fathers, our brothers, our uncles, our lovers, or strangers."

Sexual harassment
"I didn't really consider what happened to me sexual harassment until I got older because when I was in high school I thought that men acted a certain way, like they were always just perverts and could comment on the way you look." one woman testified. Her ninth grade physics teacher would comment about the female students to the male students, discussing their breasts or how fat they were. He repeatedly asked her if her boyfriend had seen her naked and made a comment one day to the whole class, "'Look how her butt wiggles in those pants.' I was really embarrassed. I couldn't learn physics in his class."

A woman who was sexually harassed on the job told how her male co-workers, who were all a lot older, daily made comments about her. "I stayed even though I knew it was wrong because I figured I could take all the comments about my body and hair and perfume and clothes. But it really made me feel dirty and bad... I used to think that if she thinks the guy is cute it's flirting and if she doesn't it's harassment. That isn't true. [Sexual harassment] is so much more than comments about clothes. It's about pride and dignity and self."

"I think the system on campus should be a lot more supportive of women who have gone through this" she said, stating that CARE only gives you 12 sessions and if you're still messed up after that, "That's your problem."

Testifiers questioned the University Police Department's statistics on rape. UPD says there were four rapes on the UF campus last year. "Does anybody really believe that that's what's happening on this campus?" said one testifier skeptically.

System sides with men
A common theme emerged from the testimonies: When women reported things that had been done to them, they met with roadblocks thrown up by law enforcement, campus officials, and others in power. Even their friends sometimes buckled under the pressure.

A woman said she reported a rape to the Gainesville Police Department, but "I had a previous record in my files at the police and they actually used this against me to intimidate me so I would not press charges." She persisted anyway.

Deborah Henson, Campus NOW Rape Action Committee co-chair, told how she tried to press charges against an acquaintanceÑa star basketball player at her campus--who had attempted to rape her. By chance, friends came by and stopped the attempt, pulling the man off of her.

Her friends told her that they would stand behind her and would testify against him, so she pressed charges.

"I went through a humiliating question and answer session with a male police officer" she remembered. He asked her questions like 'how much did you drink?', 'How short was your skirt?', 'Were you flirting with him?' "It was as if I had somehow asked for this to happen to me, as if his lack of control was justified," she said.

"It was even worse at school when word got around. I was harassed by the basketball players and their coach. My boyfriend was harassed ... he was a baseball player at the same school. His teammates wouldn't talk to him, they made jokes about me to him, and he underwent this because I was standing beside me... I was intimidated and shunned because I decided to speak out against this."

"All of my friends, the same people that had literally ripped him off of me were having trouble remembering what had happened that night... Shortly after the incident I was approached by two girls on the women's basketball team and they told me that they had had similar experiences with the exact same guy. Two that were raped, and one was an attempted rape. And there was never any charges pressed because they were worried about the repercussions."

"I lost everything because of his [actions]. I no longer had a sense of pride, a sense of self-respect, I felt dirty and worthless, and I felt I had no value as a human being. What took years for me to build up was taken away from me in a matter of minutes... He was never prosecuted because I had to leave town because I couldn't handle the pressure, and they never brought it to trial."

"Rape keeps everyone in a state of fear... Men have to worry about their sisters, their mothers, their girlfriends, and they are painfully aware that most women do not trust them... The fear of sexual assault changes our lives, when we can go places, who we can talk to, where we walk, study and live. We are constantly taking precautions that most men will never even have to consider."

A woman said that at age 15 she was raped by her best friend's older brother. "She was my best friend, and she knew, and she never did anything. ... We actually weren't friends after that because she couldn't talk to me about it and she didn't want it to be true." She said that before the incident, they had been like sisters.

Tasha Walker said that she dated this all-American type guy, football player. "At first he was really controlling... I wasn't allowed to wear skirts at all, I couldn't wear makeup. If I picked my head up in public I would get slapped for it. If I said hi to one of my guy friends, I would get slapped for it. I got my skull fractured because I wanted to do my homework rather than spend time with him. ...When I did break up I didn't get too far" she said, because it was a small school. When the man came and tried to break down her door, her mother called security, but they didn't do anything, she said. But the school put her under house arrest for two weeks. "I wasn't allowed to leave the dorm for two weeks" she said. "Me, the victim."

"I'm a strong person, nobody could believe that this was happening to me. But it's not as easy as it looks to get away... If you have a friend in that situation, keep supporting them."

Amber, a member of Campus NOW, said that her boyfriend undermined her sense of self "By making fun of my body or my intelligence." After she broke up with him, he only stopped harassing her because he moved away to college.

A woman who testified that she was sexually abused by her prominent politician father for two years from age 8 stated that every time she tells someone about her experience, male or female, they tell her that they had a similar experience. She said that while her father was convicted of abusing her, he didn't spend much time in jail.

A testifier who, as a child, watched her dad beat up her mom talked about how hard it was for her mother to leave. After she did leave, the man harassed the family, stalked them, tried to steal her and her sister away. "He would break through windows and when my mom tried to press charges, the cops persuaded her not to. And they found all these lame excuses, like it was Saturday, and for some reason it was difficult to press charges on a Saturday. I just want to make the point that the police aren't cooperative."

Making changes
Henson said she doesn't think the man who tried to rape her is a representative of the male gender. "I'm not mad at men in general... But unfortunately we live in a society where the balance of power falls in their favor. And women are routinely punished for speaking out against them. As long as we are silent, rape will continue to happen, and that is why we must speak out. Rape is a personal problem that demands a political solution. The solution to this particular problem ... lies in the society's treatment of victims and offenders... we must change the current system that punishes the victim and not the guilty party."

Young addressed the question of how political change has occurred: "Sometimes we forget that men have always had more power than us. We forget that here at UF not too long ago women couldn't wear pants to class and had to be in the dorms by 10 p.m. That we weren't allowed to be in leadership organizations like Blue Key. That around the country birth control and abortion were illegal. We forget that at one time women weren't allowed to vote and were put in jail for attempting to exercise this right. That all legal rights to our property and children were immediately given up to our husbands when we got married.

"We forget that women as a group, as part of the feminist movement, fought and won these rights for us. [But] we still can't walk alone on the streets at night without the possibility that someone might stop and harass or rape us. ... In the end, we can't even trust our friends and acquaintances, since most of our attackers are men that we know.

"We run the risk of getting raped or harassed whether we got out in slinky dresses or jeans, whether we're sluts or we're saints. It doesn't matter whether we're at a fraternity house or in our own home. As women, there is no safe place for us...

"When you come close to death and survive it, whether you simply perceive it or whether you're experiencing it directly, whether it be physical or sexual violence, or some part of your spirit dying because some man has decided to use his power against you, you gain a certain strength that no-one can take away from you. And with this strength comes a responsibility to share it with others, and work with others to fight male violence against women. Because as one woman, you will only remain terrorized and fearful, as I was. But together, we all have a chance."

next article