The shooting spree of 22-year-old Elliot Rodger left seven dead in Santa Barbara, California, and the facts behind the murders have stirred public outrage. This time, however, the debate wasn’t gun control or mental illness; instead people are talking about gender-based violence in the U.S.
Previous to the shooting, Rodger posted YouTube videos and a 141-page manifesto explaining what motivated his deadly actions. His YouTube rants and jumbled manifesto chronicle his entire life, ending in what he describes as his “Day of Retribution.” His “retribution” refers to how he planned on exacting revenge on women, who he claimed had ignored or rejected him his entire life.
His own family had asked law enforcement to check on Rodger after they grew concerned over his YouTube posts, but officers found Rodger to be polite and courteous and left soon after, having no reason to hold him. On May 23, Rodger began his killing spree, which ended with his suicide. He targeted the pretty women and popular men whom he felt had slighted him.
The shooting, like so many recent shootings around the U.S. has spurred the recurring gun and mental illness debates. But this time public outrage over gender violence has also surfaced.
On Twitter the hashtag #YesAllWomen had 1.6 million tweets between May 23 and May 27, with most tweets talking about rape, domestic violence, workplace harassment, dress code and media double standards. On the hashtag you can find many stories about abuse and gender discrimination along with anger over the standards of society.
With the recent arrest of Nathan Fletcher, who was charged with groping multiple women around BYU campus, the topic of gender violence, for many women, hits close to home.
Gender violence is not limited to sexual assault and rape. According to the United Nations “any act that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm to women is considered gender-based violence.” This list includes threats, battery, marital rape, harassment and sexual assault along with other situations in which a woman would feel threatened.
While there are not a high number of sexual assault cases on BYU’s campus, gender-based violence does exist. Most women have felt afraid for their wellbeing around a man at some point in their life, from things like men who won’t take no for an answer, to catcalls or sexist remarks. While the topic of gender violence isn’t something on most people’s minds at BYU, the situation is as pervasive in campus life as it is anywhere else.
“Verbally, guys say sexist things about girls’ bodies or about how they should look. That’s probably the biggest problem that we face here at school,” said McAllister Hall, a 21-year-old physiology major. “One guy in my writing class made comments after Emma Watson’s haircut and said that no one would ever love her and that she looked like a lesbian. He said that kind of stuff a lot. Comments like that are bad enough to make you feel very, very uncomfortable as a girl.” Hall, who sports a short hair style herself, said she’s heard her fill of sexist remarks on campus.
When asked on her thoughts of gender roles in society and how they affected women day to day she said she noticed that a lot of social standards are changing and it’s beginning to be more acceptable for women to do more things than they used to in work and family settings. Even though it’s more accepted it’s still mocked and there needed to be less of a humor about women and the way they do things.
The recent attacks by the BYU groper have left many women feeling wary on, or around, campus. Shortly after the first incidents occurred the gropings began to be mocked on social media. According to Hall people began to turn the situation into a joke, but people didn’t recognize that just because it wasn’t happening to them doesn’t make it funny.
Multiple women interviewed mentioned the same problem with gender violence on campus: students aren’t taught prevention, but are taught how to deal with violence only after happens. Women are advised not to travel alone, while in middle and high schools across the country young girls are taught what to do after being raped. Conversely, very few men received education about rape or gender violence within schools.
Another woman, Brooke Smith, a 21-year-old exercise science major, recounted the incident that made her feel wary of men once she got to college. As she would wait between classes a man began following her around the hallways. He was also in the same classes and went out of his way to get into the same groups, along with adding her on social media multiple times. But she said she was nervous about him by the crude way he acted in class.
“He was overly persistent and wouldn’t quit, to the point where it was freaky. The comments he would make in class also made me nervous,” Smith said. “I don’t like to be alone on campus because of things like this. It’s not that I walk on campus in fear, but I try to be observant.”
Smith notes that there is a fine line between being persistent and being aggressive and many guys don’t understand that “no means no.” Smith believes that lack of awareness by men or miscommunication by both the man and the woman are a few of the reasons things like this happen.
According to the 2007 Rape in Utah Survey, one in three Utah women will experience some form of sexual violence during their lives. Utah’s rate of rape has also been much higher than the U.S rate since 2000, at 63.7 per 100,000 females compared to the U.S rate of 57.4 per 100,000.
BYU Women’s Services, located in 3326 of the Wilkinson Student Center, is an on-campus service with a goal to reduce violence within the community and offer support and assistance to victims of violence and abuse. They can be reached during regular business hours during the week or by calling (801) 422-4877.