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ISSUE 121 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/29/2008

Sex on the Hill: Until the violence stops

By Miriam Samuelson
News Editor

Friday, February 29, 2008

Judging by the amount of flack this column gets even for existing, I'd say sex is a pretty uncomfortable subject for most people. Yes, we can talk about abstinence-only education, and yes, we're fine googling images of Paris Hilton's exposed vagina, but when it comes to actually talking about carnal knowledge in all its hairy, sweaty glory & let's be honest, we get incredibly awkward.

The most uncomfortable of all subjects dealing with sex is sexual violence. In our culture, we don't like to admit that anyone would say no to anything, and we certainly don't want to acknowledge that not every sexual advance would be seen as welcome. We don't want to deal with boundaries, with people's pain and anger -- we'd rather write them off as emotional or dysfunctional or weird. But, as one of my good friends says, "your discomfort is another person's reality." It's time we all got out of our comfort zones.

Speaking of getting out of our comfort zones, last weekend "The Vagina Monologues" took place in the Pause as a part of V-Week to End Violence Against Women. If you missed the vagina pins and "Until the Violence Stops" messages outside the caf, I'll explain the movement: V-Week created ten years ago by playwright and activist Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues."

The purpose of the week is to raise money for a local sexual assault resource center -- in our case, the HOPE Center in Faribault. Furthermore, Ensler designates a "spotlight" campaign each, this year focusing on women in New Orleans. St. Olaf's V-Week and production of "The Vagina Monologues" raised over $1,000 for the HOPE Center this year, and all the week's events -- including an all-male event to learn how to stop sexual violence -- were well-attended. This is a huge victory for the St. Olaf community; we are showing a tremendous amount of support for survivors of sexual assault and are taking actions to prevent it.

We still have work to do, though. One in four women who attend college in the United States will be sexually assaulted during their four years on campus. St. Olaf is not immune to this national statistic: 14.2 percent of St. Olaf women and 2.1 percent of St. Olaf men who took the Campus Health Survey last spring reported that they had experienced unwanted sexual touching or attempted penetration. The issue of sexual violence is fraught with social and interpersonal complications, but only when we begin to talk openly about these complexities will the violence come to light and, hopefully, to an end.

On a community level, we need to offer support to those who have experienced sexual assault, rape, harassment or any kind of physical or emotional abuse. We need to legitimize a plurality of experiences and emotions and debunk the myth that people don't need to seek help for any kind of pain that they might be in. (Also let's acknowledge the fact that SARN and the St. Olaf Counseling Center are, among others, two of the best resources on campus, no matter who you are). We need to discard the idea that intellectual learning is the only kind of learning we experience in college. Only in such an open climate can people talk about the pain and lifelong ramifications of sexual violence and begin to take steps toward healing.

Putting an end to sexual violence on campus means examining our interpersonal relationships as well. In their textbook "Our Sexuality," Karla Baur and Robert Crooks assert what many of us already know: most rape and sexual assault is committed by an acquaintance. Clear communication in interpersonal relationships, especially in sexual ones, is key in preventing sexual violence. We need to reconceive notions of what it means to communicate desire; we need to ask our partners what they want and don't want. We need to say yes only when we mean yes, and no when we mean no. Simple statements such as "If I go back to your room with you, we're only watching a movie" can go a long way in promoting clear communication, and are surprisingly less awkward than one might expect.

More information on sexual violence can be found at or by calling SARN at x3777. We all play an integral part in creating a culture where sexual assault is unacceptable, and it's time to recognize our responsibility as individuals in a community of people who respect one another.

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