GW Paper Criticizes Sexual Assault Victims’ Lack of “Responsibility” was originally published on The Sexist on Oct. 12, 2009, at 4:13 p.m.
In a staff editorial, The George Washington University newspaper the Hatchet reacted to two recent incidents of on-campus violence by calling for a "shared responsibility for safety." In the first incident, a stranger approached a graduate student in the bathroom of an academic building and hit him in the head with a hammer. In the second, a stranger approached several sleeping women in a Freshman dorm and sexually assaulted them.
"Both of these incidents exemplify ways that GW can improve security on its campus," the Hatchet editorial informed students. According to the camps paper, the bathroom hammering reveals how the university needs to "better expedite information in response to major security threats on campus." The sexual assault, meanwhile, "shows that students have a responsibility to keep themselves safe."
Perhaps it was not the best choice of words.
Both incidents, which occurred on Friday, Oct. 9, involved an assault upon students in a private on-campus facility. The male graduate student suffered a "non-life-threatening head injury" after he was "using a urinal when the suspect ... came out of one of the stalls, stood behind the student and hit him in the back of the head with a hammer." Earlier that day, several GW freshman awoke to a strange man sexually assaulting them in their private dorm rooms. The paper, disappointingly, softens the man’s actions as "sexual advances":
One female student who lives on the eighth floor reported that the man woke her up by trying to kiss her, and "attempted twice to place his hands down the front of her shorts," according to the police report. The female began screaming and the man ran across the hallway to another room, where he woke up another girl. She said he told her he had met her at Josephine, a popular nightclub.
"That’s when I knew I didn’t know him -- I’ve never been to Josephine," the second female student said in an interview. "Then he grabbed my head and tried to kiss me."
In the editorial following the incidents, the Hatchet board wrote that the sexual assaults constituted a "valuable reminder of the necessity for students to lock their doors at all times and to take responsibility for guests you bring into residence halls."
These general safety precautions -- lock your doors and don’t leave your guests unattended -- are good to know, but it doesn't take a G.W. Hatchet editorial for students to finally understand the arguments in favor of locking doors. Actually, a sexual assault on campus is not a "valuable" public service announcement, nor is it an appropriate opportunity to inform victims that they’re lacking in personal responsibility.
The Hatchet noted that the assault victims had "accidentally left the door unlocked" before they went to sleep. Compare that lapse in "responsibility" to the guy who illegally gained entrance to a private dorm, climbed to the 8th floor, and systematically sexually assaulted a hallway full of sleeping women. Oh, well. At least he taught those girls a valuable lesson!
Why doesn't the Hatchet see the a student getting hammered in the head as a "valuable reminder" that using a public urinal puts men in a vulnerable situation to a surprise attack? And why is the campus' latest head injury victim not reminded that he has a "responsibility to keep himself safe" from deranged criminals?
Maybe it's because that sort of teaching moment works to place the blame on the guy who's just taking a piss, instead of the unpredictably violent guy with the hammer. Take away the hammer, unlock the door, and turn the bathroom victim into a hallway full of sleeping women, and all of a sudden, nobody’s responsible for your sexual assault but you.
The GW Hatchet is writing to a pretty small campus community. The women who were sexually assaulted read that editorial. They know that their experience is being used by the campus press as a "valuable reminder" of campus irresponsibility. I hope they write back.