In recent weeks, there has been increased attention surrounding sexual violence on campus and the Office of Student Integrity’s response to such. As student
organizations who strive to prevent and raise awareness about sexual violence, we want to address the implications of these conversations.
As a campus, many members of the Tech community are committed to creating an environment that is friendly and supportive to survivors of sexual violence. For many years, VOICE has existed as an initiative to respond to and prevent sexual violence at Georgia Tech. Recently, the Institute has hired two Victim-Survivor Advocates who work solely to support survivors and their allies. Many students and organizations have worked to become educated on the issue by requesting trainings and workshops on prevention and survivor support. We are inspired by our growing memberships.
This progress, however, can be threatened by conversations that inaccurately reflect the experience of survivors of sexual violence and the process through which perpetrators are held accountable by the Institute. Conversations like these contribute to a culture that constantly questions the legitimacy of survivors’ trauma and assumes that they are lying.
Sexual violence on a college campus can be particularly difficult to understand or see. Sometimes our default response is incredulity for survivors and their stories, instead of acceptance and acknowledgement that they are telling the truth. No one wants to believe that their friend, classmate or teammate is capable of harming another person in an awful way. It’s hard to admit when the people we thought we knew or trusted disappoint us or show us a side of themselves we never thought possible, and this cognitive dissonance is hard to resolve.
But when a survivor gathers the courage to reach out for support and share their experience, we as a community have a responsibility not to further harm them. Publicly shaming one survivor creates a ripple effect that is detrimental to all of the survivors in our community. After experiencing sexual violence, survivors often already feel shame and self-doubt, and by contributing to a conversation that questions the legitimacy of their experiences, even
more harm is done.
This negative cycle of victim questioning and blaming is a problem that extends beyond the Tech community — it is a part of American culture as a whole and is perpetuated by the media. Because this cycle has been normalized for us in every aspect of our lives, we often don’t think twice about participating in or further perpetuating it.
The cycle does not have to continue on our campus. We don’t have to accept this as a definitive way of thinking about sexual violence; we can resist a world where rape culture is the norm.
We, as a community of Tech students, faculty, and staff, can be better supporters of survivors and be at the forefront of changing the way our society talks about sexual violence. We can work harder to not just be the best at cutting-edge research, but also the best at showing survivors that we believe them and not tolerating victim shaming in our community.
To all survivors of sexual violence at Georgia Tech and beyond, we have one message for you — you are not alone and we believe you. If you need immediate, confidential support or information, Victim-Survivor Advocates are available 24/7 through Health Promotion. Call them at 404-385-4464 or 404-385-4451 or visit voice.gatech.edu for further information and resources.
For anyone who wants to be a part of this change in conversation and culture, we invite you to join us. Survivors in our community need our support, and there
is too much at stake for us to remain silent.