take back the night sign

Sexual harassment is harassment, even if you’re wasted

Ed. note: This post was originally published on the Community site.

I wish I still had that picture on my Instagram of the guy at a Rutgers University football game with a T-shirt that said “There’s no drunk without RU.” Clever, right? 

And to be honest, he’s right. Rutgers is known for two things: research and parties. You want to go there for the academics, but the party scene is the bonus! And the best part is, there are options. Under 21? Dorm parties. Apartment parties. Student center parties. Greek parties. 21 and up? All the above plus the plethora of bars right in your back yard. Please, don’t take my sarcasm for hater-ation. I love to party!

The sarcasm is stemming from my frustration with the things that happen at parties that are never talked about. Tightly packed parties with drinks and sweat and speakers knockin’ are bound to yield a little bump and grind. And that’s all fun and good — if the people dancing are both consenting to that invasion of space. But a lot of times in party settings, men will sit back and scope out which girl they want to dance with, walk up on her, and see what happens next.

You see how casual I made that sound? That is how it is perceived to most people. Causal — and just a part of the party way of life. But that is actually sexual harassment. That sounds bad, because it is.

As someone who loves to party but doesn’t dance much with other people because of the extra exertion of energy — you’ll catch me in the back of the room, just chilling — I can tell you how frustrating it is to have someone grab your arm, smack your butt, or come up behind you and start dancing, and then be mad at you for not wanting to entertain them. Or have you ever been out on the town and you walk by a group of guys who say a variety of comments to you that they might say to a steak that their mother just cooked? And you continue to walk by and they hit you with the “F**k you then!”

A few years ago, I never really knew what to do in those types of situations, and to be honest, I still don’t have a straight answer. Do I be “nice” so he won’t get hostile and say “Umm…no, thank you?” Do I pretend I didn’t hear him? One time at a bar — and this isn’t the only time this happened — a guy smacked my butt while I was walking by, minding my business, grooving to the beat. I told him not to do that, then he smiled and laugh. So…now what?

Sexual harassment happens so consistently, it’s not even seen as an issue. It’s more like, it’s just life. The normalization of harassment doesn’t just happen in bars, but among children and teens too. Two thirds of women in this country have experienced street harassmentOne study finds that young women and girls rarely report incidents of abuse because they regard sexual violence as normal — something that is expected and should be accepted. This is especially true when there is drinking involved.

But these acts of sexual harassment reinforce age-old ideas of ownership over women’s bodies. That women’s bodies are up for grabs. That we are available for men’s pleasure first and foremost. These notions are the same ones that underlie sexual violence. Just as some boys in the bar believe they have the right and power to grab the girls passing back and bring them a little closer, some believe they have the right and power to have sex with another person without their consent. As I wrote in The Daily Targum at Rutgers recently, consent and communication is key when it comes to sex. Especially for college students living at a party school.

Yesterday, I organized my second and last “Take Back the Night” at Rutgers before I graduate in May. We had a rally, march, and speak-out to elevate the voice of survivors and stir up the neighborhood. We are making people listen to us. Like last year, we came out in the hundreds. Our voice echoing in the streets. Volunteers stopping to pass out information along the way. Advocates walking, a listening ear for those you may need them. We the people. Telling our people. Speaking to our people. Walking together. No one should be afraid to walk alone at night. No one should be sexually silenced. We have to stand up. Be loud. Shatter the silence. Stop the violence.

Women’s bodies must be respected, above being protected.

Kaila Boulware is a senior and Public Health Major at Rutgers University.

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