VIEWPOINT: Don’t Be a Victimizer

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    By Brittany Leonard

    Don”t walk alone at night. Don”t get in your car without checking out all the cars around it. Avoid big scary vans and unlit parking lots, stairwells and lone gas stations. Don”t wear immodest clothing – you don”t know what it might make men do. Don”t be alone with a guy in private. Just don”t…or you might get assaulted, raped or killed.

    I, like probably every other girl, have gotten these tips from e-mail forwards and church lessons for as long as I can remember. I am not downplaying the importance of safety or of being cautious – I am a firm advocate of women not being raped, abused, assaulted and killed. But I do question why we as a society still aim so much of our energy at changing victim behavior – at making women everywhere become paranoid – instead of looking at the issue of violence against women and saying, “Hey guys, why don”t you stop hurting women?”

    It sounds obvious, I know, and many might contend that we don”t have any problems with violence against women, not here at BYU or in Utah in general. But that assumption is wrong and very harmful to those working tirelessly to eradicate discrimination and abuse against women. Violence is unfortunately alive and well right here in Happy Valley.

    A survey of women over the age of 18 in Utah showed that nearly one out of three had experienced some kind of sexual assault during their lifetime and only 10 percent of them reported it.

    The reality is that most women are more afraid of their families or friends discovering abuse or assault then they are of the physical and emotional repercussions from such encounters.

    In 2003, nearly 3,500 crisis calls were made to the women”s shelter in our area. In 2004, 23 individuals were murdered in domestic violence related homicides in Utah. Clearly there are still problems, even though laws like the one the governor signed last month, “Lori”s law,” aim at increasing sentence lengths for murder in Utah.

    Two weeks ago a student wrote in urging guys to respect the Honor Code and to analyze their own behavior toward women. Last week a reporter wrote about the realities of abuse and how we should not be afraid to confront it and talk about it, especially when all we want to do is keep it silent.

    I am going a step further and challenging everyone, guys and girls alike, all future parents and church leaders to commit to not tolerating violence or abuse – not for a moment. Don”t ever use violence against another person and don”t ever blame others for being victims. It doesn”t matter what someone does – violence is never deserved, nor should it be rationalized away. Someone who has been sexually victimized doesn”t need to be “forgiven.” There was no sin in the first place.

    Refraining from violence isn”t a priesthood issue, although there should be an even stronger moral imperative for males who claim to be worthy holders. It is a human rights issue.

    I know a lot of guys here who respect women, who are sensitive to media and attitudes that would promote violence against women in all of its forms. But let”s do better. There is no room for pornography, stalking, harassment, domestic abuse, rape or even murder. When you make jokes or support media that objectify either sex, that contribute to these narrow stereotypes of men and women and lead to their hierarchical status, you are contributing to the problem. Let”s talk about it instead of shying away from it because the reality is that there are unpleasant things in this life that people have to deal with, and there is no room for silence or violence, not in this church and not in this world.

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