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Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024
The Observer

Observer Editorial: Speak on your terms

Editor’s note: This editorial includes discussions of sexual abuse. A list of sexual assault reporting options and on-campus resources can be found on the Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross websites.

In the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every 68 seconds. In over half of these assault cases, the victim is between 18 and 34 years old. One in six women have been assaulted in their lifetime. Women in college are three times more likely than the average woman to be a victim of sexual assault and twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than they are to be robbed.

In the 2020 campus climate survey, 18% of female and 4% of male Notre Dame students experienced non-consensual sexual contact during their time as a student. Only 6% reported the assault to the University.

These statistics make it painfully clear that sexual assault and violence is prevalent not just in our country, but here in our tri-campus community as well. While it’s easy to get lost in the numbers, these are so much more than statistics. These are real people — our friends, our siblings, our classmates, and ourselves. Sexual assault is an issue that affects us all, and each of us has a responsibility to work to create a safer environment. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and in support of this important month, the tri-campus is hosting several events to raise awareness and stand in support of survivors in our community.

An important first step in creating a safer community is knowing what resources are available to you. There are a variety of both confidential and non-confidential resources available on campus for those who want to report an assault. Confidential resources, such as on-campus counseling services, medical care and pastoral resources, are not required to report an assault. Meanwhile, nonconfidential resources, such as residence hall staff and the police department, are required to report the incident.

Callisto is a nonprofit organization that has partnered with Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s to provide sexual violence survivor support. Through Callisto, survivors can confidentially tell their story, rather than submit an official report. They will have personal access to the report as well as free legal services should they ever choose to report, and they can opt into a matching program that attempts to identify repeat offenders.

Unfortunately, most sexual assault perpetrators won’t face charges. For every 1,000 assaults, only 350 will be reported to the police. Fifty of these reports will lead to an arrest and 28 will lead to a felony conviction. Only 25 of the perpetrators will be incarcerated.

In the face of these sobering statistics, it can be intimidating for survivors to come forward with their stories. Many will face criticism and accusations, rather than support and love.

To acknowledge Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Saint Mary’s President Katie Conboy and the President’s Committee on Sexual Violence established the Raise Your Voice — Sexual Violence Symposium. The symposium is April 6-13, and events include panels, readings, guest speakers and art installations. 

In Regina Hall at 3 p.m. Friday, alumna Janet Kelly ‘97 will read from her young adult novel “Taint” and lead a discussion afterward on the book’s themes, including rape, justice and friendship. Also in Regina Hall on Friday, students and alumnae will present their research on sexual violence. 

New York Times bestselling author Chanel Miller will host a reading and discussion from her book “Know My Name” Monday in the O’Laughlin Auditorium at 6 p.m. 

A visual art installation titled “What Were You Wearing” will also open Monday. The installation will be presented in O’Laughlin Auditorium until April 18, and visitors are welcome from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. The installation will share stories of survivors from the Saint Mary’s campus community and is meant to address the victim-blaming myth that sexual assault can be attributed to what someone was wearing.

Take Back the Night, a worldwide movement to stand against sexual violence, will close out the symposium Wednesday evening. The annual tri-campus event will begin at Saint Mary’s at 5 p.m. on the Island. Participants will walk to Notre Dame for Survivor Speak Out, where survivors will share their stories. The night will conclude with a prayer service at the Grotto. More information about the movement can be found on the official site

In addition, members of the tri-campus community will be hosting a Denim Day later in the month in support of sexual assault survivors.

The Observer hopes we can contribute to a better culture surrounding sexual assault. Most of all, we want you to know that you are not alone. In a letter to the editor published in our Monday paper, an anonymous writer wrote, “I am learning to speak. Listen.” The Observer is not an official sexual assault reporting platform, but it is a place where victims can share their stories if they’re ready to come forward — anonymously or not. While we grant anonymity on a case-by-case basis, we strongly support those who have experienced sexual assault. If and when you’re ready to speak out, The Observer can be your platform.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.