Letter: Start this conversation
Sunday night, reports of an alleged hate crime at Columbia University shocked the Columbia community and Americans everywhere. Indeed, in my time at Columbia, I have never witnessed such an explicit instance of racial violence, and it utterly disturbs me. However, I am equally disturbed by another type of violence that occurred on Sunday, and this type of violence is certainly not race at Columbia, in New York, or anywhere in America. I’m referring to sexual violence.
The suspect seems to have instigated this entire incident when he sexually harassed the victim’s female friends. The exact nature of his actions remains unclear: NBC New York simply described his actions as heckling, while the Gothamist reported that he “brushed up” against the women. Regardless, he committed verbal or behavioral sexual harassment, both of which, according to the Center for Disease Control and prevention, are types of sexual violence.
Most of the news reports about this issue are focused on the alleged hate crime; they only mention the sexual harassment as something that led up to the crime. Thus the media is deemphasizing the sexual violence that occurred, but why?
One possible reason is that sexual violence occurs quite frequently: the Rape Abuse and Incent National Network (RAINN) estimates that one out of every six American women has survived sexual assault. Because it is so common, it may not have the shock-value of a hate crime.
However, it is precisely because sexual violence is so common that we can no longer afford to be silent about it; that we can no longer afford to de-emphasize it in stories like the “hate crime” incident at Columbia. It is important that we all acknowledge the damaging impacts of sexual violence and play a more active role in de-normalizing it in our culture.