By Carson McCready and Mycah Roark – Collegiate Staff
In light of current events surrounding the accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein, Grand Rapids Community College students shared their thoughts and feelings on the “Me Too” hashtag and the problem of sexual harassment and assault on college campuses.
Many students say that it is difficult to determine what constitutes sexual harassment. Is it a comment in passing, an inappropriate gesture or expression, or a physical occurrence?
Kim Brems’ afternoon Public Speaking class came to the consensus that sexual assault and harassment is to be “overimposing,” or to keep going when your partner says “no.”
This Michigan Penal Code regarding the specifics of sexual assault and harassment describes it as “any form of unwanted sexual contact obtained without consent and/or obtained through the use of force, threat of force, intimidation, or coercion.”
The nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, RAINN, gives the specifics on Michigan’s laws “from the definition of rape to a person’s ability to consent.”
When a group of men in the Brems’ Public Speaking class were asked if they would take action if they were to witness sexual assault or harassment happening, Tyler Littleton, 25, of Austin, Texas commented that in his Navy days he saw these occurrences happen a lot, and that “it is unacceptable.” He continued that he and his buddies would take action by having little “chats” with the perpetrators to create an “understanding.”
The pop culture news surrounding the accusations against Weinstein have caused the creation of a new hashtag, “#metoo.” This hashtag has primarily circled Twitter, but has also made many appearances on Facebook and Instagram.
The hashtag has of course met negative results as well. Megan Nolan of Vice criticises the hashtag for putting a spotlight on the wrong side of the issue.
“The problem, really, with all of it is how violently present the victim is forced to be in the narrative, and how utterly passive the perpetrator,” Nolan said in her blog post.
She proceeded though, “it is of course necessary to take practical steps to prevent attacks, to enable reporting, to ensure abusers face appropriate punitive measures both legal and social. These things make a tangible difference to the lives of women.”
So the questions is, where is the line, what is truly considered harassment, is it a cat call, a whistle, a touch, words? Who sets the bar for what is and is not harassment?
But a bigger question than where is the line is is why are people so ashamed to help, to stand up, or even to talk about it? This subject is treated the same as the “talk” that most get in middle school, but when asked students in Brems’ afternoon Public Speaking class and Journalism 251 admitted that the talk on sexual harassment in middle school was almost nonexistent. Why is that? Why are people so afraid to talk about such an unfortunately common incident for men and women?
Courtney Ritger, 18, from Rockford, said that because of the “metoo” hashtag she learned that one of her good friends was sexually harassed and never talked about it. “She went to the police and there was no proof that it happened, so they were unable to do anything,” Ritger said.
In today’s society, legally, word of mouth evidence does not really cut it. Documenting harassment by logging dates, times, places and who was present at the time of the incidents and saving email or SMS correspondence with the harasser is recommended by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE). The organization also stresses the importance of alerting someone you trust about the harassment.
“Only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 2 out of 3 go unreported,” stated RAINN. Likewise from RAINN, only 20 percent of female, college aged students report sexual harassment.
Overall, students of the GRCC community have expressed concern over the seriousness of sexual harassment and assault, and a desire to educate people on these topics to improve their safety and the safety of their peers.