Thanks to my UConn friends for sending me the heads up to this story. And i apologize for not being able to write about it sooner. In all honestly, i had to cool off and calm down before i tried to write about it or it would have been an angry, pissed off, jumble of a hot mess.
In summary, Melissa Bruen, Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Campus (the UConn student paper), was sexually assaulted Friday of UConn's annual Spring Weekend. While walking on the Hunting Lodge Road Trail (aka "the rape trail") she was picked up by her shoulders, pinned up against a pole and "dry humped" by a stranger. She, unlike many sexual assault victims, fought back. She pushed the guy off, grabbed him, and threw him onto the ground. She punched him in the face, full force. Melissa describes fighting back: "A small crowd had gathered, mostly men. Now they seemed shocked. I was supposed to have been a victim, and I was breaking out of the mold. I hit him in the stomach, while clenching my legs around him to prevent another man from pushing me off. In all, it took three men to pull me off my assailant. He got up and ran off, yelling at me, as if I were the would-be rapist."
What happened next is even more shocking. As Melissa yelled back to him, "YOU assaulted ME," another guy approached her and said, "You think that was assault?" He pulled down her tube top, grabbed her breasts, and the crowed cheered. Melissa tried to break free but was shoved into others. She writes, "I was surrounded, but I kept swinging and hitting until I was able to break free of the circle they had formed. I started running barefoot toward Celeron, but ended up throwing myself on the ground, crying and screaming hysterically. I saw a friend in the crowd, and all I could do was scream his name over and over. I could see the ambulance and police checkpoint in the distance."
Please read Melissa's full article for yourself.
I graduated from UConn. I worked as a peer counselor. I worked for the violence against women program as a sexual assault victim advocate. I also worked to dispel the "rape trail" myth while i was there by talking about the rarity of men jumping out of the bushes on the trail. I tried to help people understand that it was much more likely that the guy who just took you out on a date would rape you. At Uconn date rape is incredibly prevalent. At UConn (like many other college campuses) people don't realize the definitions of rape and/or consent. Reading Melissa's experience leaves me totally shocked, disgusted, and angered. This story is awful.
Spring weekend is notorious for sexual assaults but this one left me in tears. I can't believe the crowd's reaction! Or rather lack there of. If i saw a woman being sexually or physically assaulted i hope to G-d that i'd step in and do something. And if others were laughing, cheering on the assailant, i would probably want to punch them in the face. I am usually not a fan of violence but honestly, i want to punch these boys right in their face (or "in their wieners" in the words of Juno's dad...)
Also, I have an incredibly pessimistic view of UConn's judicial system and response to sexual assault and rape. I had an experience with them while supporting a friend who was a survivor of rape. Her case was incredibly clear cut. There was no denial that he had raped her. On numerous occasion. With a witness in the room... the guy got off, scott free. He wasn't punished one bit. I hope Melissa goes through any legal system other than the University's, for her own sake. Again and again when it comes to women's safety, I am disappointed at my alma mater.
Melissa was not only incredibly strong and brave during the attack but continues to feel the effects of what happened to her. She's bombarded with comments, insults, and threats that attempt to trivialize her assault and victim blame. "She made it all up for fame" one comment says, "she shouldn't have been wearing a tube top" argues another, and my all time favorite, "maybe she shouldn't have been drinking."
Melissa's assault in general (in front of a crowd), University and police response (keeping the case open thus giving her an opportunity to press charges down the line), and her ability to discuss what happened to her (being editor-in-chief of the newspaper and access/involvement in campus resources) leave me thinking about the women who don't have the same opportunities post assault as Melissa. As well as women who did/do not fight back. Melissa reported her assault. How many weren't reported? How many survivors didn't fight back? How many victims did/do not even realize they were sexually assaulted?
Although disappointed in the UConn community (the applauding crowd) for not coming to Melissa's aid, i am incredibly proud of Melissa herself for sharing her story and starting dialogue. Good for you, Melissa, for getting people talking about sexual assault, violence against women, and civil responsibility.
Melissa ends her article with, "I was raised to fight back, so I made sure to get a few good swings in. My bruises will fade, and I will move on. But if you ever see someone being assaulted, do the right thing."
Also, here are links to the more mainstream feminist blogs that covered this story: Feministing and Shakesville
(Kyle, thanks for the picture)