Written by Olivia Lyons
I finish filming a school project with a classmate at her apartment. It’s about 9:30pm, on a well-below-zero December night in Burlington, Vermont. I’ve called two of my friends who had said they could probably bring me home. No answer from one, and an apology from the other. One last call to a voicemail before admitting to myself, she’s busy with other important things.
I’ll have to walk home alone.
The walk is less than a mile to campus, and I can’t justify paying almost $10 for an Uber. A quick check of my phone and show that my battery is at about 9%, so I put it down my shirt to keep the charge alive, just in case I need it in a pinch. The extreme cold isn’t what’s bothering me tonight; it’s not knowing what strange person I may encounter. I step out onto the dark street and practically run to where it’s well-lit. I turn on Church Street, a strip of shops where cars are not allowed. During this time of year, it’s lined with Christmas lights, making it appear friendly, but I decide to walk down the center to stay as far away from the dark alleys as possible.
The first thing I notice—the brick street is pure ice.
The first thing I think—“I won’t be able to run away from anyone.”
I recalled this night to a male peer, and a male professor. Their jaws dropped as I said the words, “I won’t be able to run away from anyone.” My professor told me he would think something along the lines of; “shit, it’s icy. I better not fall on my face…” Never would the thought of being forced to run from someone cross his mind.
Now, before you stop reading, this is NOT “just another article” reiterating what it’s like to be a female in 2018. Nor is this “just another article” blaming all men for those despicable males who have done wrong. This is also NOT an article going in depth, describing those men who make female identifying people so uncomfortable and afraid. Instead, I am questioning why we, as a college student body, put up such thick blinders to the issues regarding sexual abuse.
There have been so many recent cases, it is hard to keep up. But as one of my professors said, “you don’t get to not give a shit.”
In late January, Larry Nassar was sentenced up to 175 years in prison after over 150 women came forward, naming him as their abuser. Nassar is the former doctor for the United States gymnastics team.
During the sentencing, my eyes were glued to the television in the cafeteria. I sat there, sick to my stomach, trying to hold back tears, as facts were read describing how many females will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday, how strong the women who came out against Nassar are, how many women spoke out, but were told he is a doctor and he must know what he’s doing, it’s fine, and finally, how Nassar did not believe he did anything wrong. I smiled like a buffoon and laughed aloud when Judge Rosemarie Aquilina tossed Nassar’s letter off to the side because she didn’t believe a bit of it.
When Judge Aquilina said, “I’m not really well-liked because I speak out. I don’t have many friends because I speak out. If you ask me a question, you better be ready for the answer. I speak out because I want change, because I don’t believe in hiding the truth, and I’m not saying that I’m always right, but I try,” I related deep, deep down in my soul. When Judge Aquilina stated, “Sir, I’m giving you 175 years, which is 2,100 months. I just signed your death warrant,” I cheered. Tears flowed from my eyes. These girls, who had so much taken from them, just got a sliver of their life back. They will never have to worry about this man hurting them, or any other girl, ever again.
Amidst my emotional roller coaster, I glanced around the dining hall. Not another student was paying the trial any attention. How could no one care? CNN made it very clear that it was breaking news. The women affected in this trial are close in age to most of the student body, and sexual abuse is prevalent on all college campuses, Yet I’m questioning if my peers even care.
Later that day, there were gifs of Judge Aquilina tossing Nassar’s letter, circulating on twitter. My peers were commenting, saying this was the best moment of the whole trial. The best moment. I was in the cafeteria at the same exact time many of those retweeting “the best moment” were, and I know for a fact that they were not watching it happen in real time. Did they do follow-ups after the live stream? That is very possible, but I saw more meme-esque tweets just highlighting the funny “zinger” comments Judge Aquilina made. Nowhere did I see any posts regarding the original airing.
I thought long and hard about this issue. Are people my age simply blocking out all of the “bad news” because there is so much of it frequenting the headlines? Have we accustomed ourselves to simply focus on the “good parts” of the bad news, such as the Judge Aquilina gif? If this is so, what are we ever going to do to make changes? At a male dominated campus like Champlain College, shouldn’t these issues be further addressed than simply having speakers every few weeks at odd times during the day? If this is the direction my generation is taking when needing to address tough subjects, I can only imagine the conversations and attention to the matter becoming less and less prevalent.
When I volunteered at my elementary and middle school library over Winter break, I overheard an interesting discussion. The Blackout at the Golden Globes was mentioned along with the “Time’s Up Movement.” One of the sixth graders asked what the movement was about. Their teacher replied, “it’s just about equal pay for women.” I was floored. One of the young girls saw my stunned face and gave me a puzzled look. When I mentioned this to my Mom, she said the teachers are not allowed to talk about some subjects with the students. They are to go home and ask their parents. This is preposterous to me. In school, when they are young, impressionable, and mature enough to handle the content, they should discuss sexual abuse and inequality.
The definition on the Time’s Up Movement website says, “The clock has run out on sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace. It’s time to do something about it.” One of the ways to “do something about it,” is start the conversation with kids. Make sure they know to walk home in a buddy system at night, but also be aware that sometimes, things don’t always line up correctly, and they may need to walk home alone. This may trigger something in many minds. If we all do our best to address and stop sexual abuse, not as many will have to fear the people they pass on the street and factors keeping them from escaping possible threats.
As for us 20-somethings; we need to stop staring at the memes on our phones, actually read an entire article, or watch a full news package, and have some meaningful discussions. If it makes you uncomfortable, talk about it. The only way to make an idea mainstream is by actually saying the words out loud.
I no longer want to walk in fear at night.
Is saying those ten words going to make an instant change? No. But it can help normalize the idea. It’s about calling people out on their bullshit. Does that mean you have HR on speed dial, waiting for someone to take the bait and say something teetering on the line of “okay” and harassment? No. It’s addressing a situation that is blatantly wrong. Teaching pre-teens and young adults that there are some sketchy people in the world, but if we all make an effort to eliminate that behavior, and learn the basics of respecting each other, we won’t have to much fear so much and as often.
Imprint Judge Aquilina’s words into your brain, on a poster above your bed, and make it the background on your phone, “I speak out because I want change, because I don’t believe in hiding the truth, and I’m not saying that I’m always right, but I try.”