Clio Bluestocking once again has a tale of nastiness from inside the Ivory Tower. To wit:
Today, the security office at our campus sent out this notice:
“Yesterday evening two female students were studying in the lower level of the library when they were approached by a man who engaged in extremely lewd behavior.”
The “lower level” is below ground and houses the majority of the book stacks and some study space, so there aren’t many librarians or other employees down there very often. This sort of thing has happened at lots of libraries that I’ve used, too. Closed, quiet spaces seem to bring out the perv in a lot of people.
The next sentence in the notice, however, bothered me for some reason:
“Personal safety practices and knowledge are your best defense against incidents of this nature.”
Exactly how does that address the issue of being accosted sexually? What exactly do they mean by “personal safety practices and knowlege”? . . . . The women, students, were studying, at school, in the library.
Like we need to give our students any other excuses to avoid studying or to avoid the library? Moreover, one could argue that in so doing, they were actively engaged in the pursuit of knowledge in an environment they presumed was safe. How presumptuous of those students to think that they had equal rights to equal access on their own campus! How foolish of them not to huddle in group study rooms and escort each other to the bathroom so as to avoid the notorious campus whack-off artist?
When I was in college, “campus safety” for women was handing out rape whistles in the school colors, and (true story!) installing “rape alarms” in the women’s bathrooms in the library. (They were there at Penn in the early 1990s–I don’t know if they still are.) But, these measures, like the advice from campus police that Clio B. reports, put the onus of women’s safety on women. Instead of presuming that all women college students are potential victims and asking them to always walk around and study in pairs or groups, let’s just presume that male college students are potential aggressors, and make them always walk and study in groups (either with other men or women) when on campus? Campus police would have the authority to arrest male students who were unescorted, and the women students could use their own campus with much greater confidence in their own safety.
In the absence of policies like this, I think women college students should be charged less tuition, since they clearly aren’t free to use the campus and its resources the same way that their male peers are. No walking home to your dorm or apartment late at night, no drinking at all in bars or at parties unless you want to be accused of asking for sexual assault, and now, no studying alone in the library! Professor Blackwoman at W.O.C. Ph.D. had an interesting post on this a few months ago when she was threatened by a creepy dude who liked to hang out around her department, and I wonder if Breaking the Code would like to weigh in on this issue, since she’s interested in questions about gender and space, and she’s got a post up now about women being rubbed against in public. (Read the article she links to about the MBTA’s new anti-frottage PR campaign. Interestingly, the only time Historiann had that unfortunate experience was in fact on the green line in Boston, which is always packed above-ground heading West after work, because it’s free for outbound riders. An elbow to the guts works pretty well, but still–who needs that crap?)
UPDATED 4/28/08: Clio B. has an update concerning the police investigation, and the continued absence of creative thinking about how to fend off attacks like these.