Last week, two incidents of sexual violence were reported to the Emory Police Department (EPD): one of rape and the other of sexual assault. The alleged rape occurred on Tuesday night near the Emory Village traffic circle, while the other incident reportedly took place early Wednesday morning in the Sigma Nu fraternity house. As required by the federal Clery Act, the University alerted the Emory community via email about the reported incidents, including a description of the event, emergency contact information and safety tips.
The safety tips included in the first email in regard to the alleged rape in the Village consisted of advice such as, “after dark, walk with a partner or in a group whenever possible,” and “be aware of your surroundings.” In the context of these emails, do these tips imply that the victim was being unsafe or unaware of their surroundings? Tips like these are well-intentioned, but they can be construed as “victim-blaming,” or emphasizing things that the victim – rather than the perpetrator – has done wrong. Victim-blaming can make the victim feel like the incident was his or her fault, when it is never his or her fault.
We are glad that the second email sent out that day announcing a sexual assault did not contain these same victim-blaming issues and that it contained more constructive tips, such as, “remember that consent is an active process,” and “the majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the survivor knows.”
With the emails being sent out less than 24 hours apart, we applaud the University for making changes to their responses to incidents of sexual violence so quickly. However, response is only one part of the equation when it comes to combatting sexual violence. We believe that there are certain concrete steps that the University should also take in regards to the prevention of sexual violence.
First, we feel the University should both improve the street lighting and install a blue light in the wooded area located next to Starbucks and near the Emory Village traffic circle, the area where the alleged rape occurred. This area, which students frequently walk through while going to Emory Village and residences in the surrounding neighborhood, is very dark and potentially dangerous. Lighting this area and installing a blue light would lessen the dangers that these conditions pose and make students feel more safe.
Additionally, the University, being one of the largest employers and most important institutions in the Metro Atlanta area, should use its influence to lobby DeKalb County to improve street lighting in residential areas directly adjacent to Emory’s campus. Many members of the Emory community walk the streets of this neighborhood every night, on their way home and to social events. Some streets are incredibly dark, creating conditions at night that may make people feel unsafe. We recognize that, since these areas are off-campus, Emory is not directly able to install more street lighting on them. That responsibility lies with DeKalb County and hopefully with the help of the University, these changes can be implemented.
The location of the alleged sexual assault in the Sigma Nu fraternity house draws attention to the fact that instances of sexual violence are often associated with fraternity houses and events at Emory. We urge the Interfraternity Council (IFC) to recognize this problem and do everything in its power to correct it. A good first step would be to require that every executive board member of every fraternity receive sexual assault bystander training. Bystander training gives people the knowledge and tools necessary to react properly in situations of crisis and prevent sexual violence from occurring. Furthermore, IFC should specifically instruct the risk managers, who work to minimize harm, of every fraternity to watch for potential instances of sexual violence at fraternity events and to be ready to stop them from occurring.
Additionally, the University should react to sexual assaults in fraternity houses and at fraternity events with the same seriousness that it responds with to hazing. As the recent case of Phi Delta Theta demonstrates, after hazing is reported the University conducts an extensive investigation, including interviewing every member of the fraternity. This response should provide a template for how the University responds to instances of sexual violence involving fraternities.
The University should be committed to ending rape culture and be doing everything in its power to makes this campus and the surrounding neighborhoods safe for every member of its community. We applaud the way in which the University restructured its response to the second instance of sexual violence last week in order to minimize victim-blaming in its response. However, in addition to improving its response to sexual violence, the University should do more to prevent it from occurring. Improving lighting and installing a blue light in the wooded area by Starbucks, lobbying DeKalb County to improve the lighting in the residential areas directly adjacent to Emory’s campus and holding fraternities more accountable for sexual violence that occurs in their houses or at their events are necessary steps to make the University and its surrounding areas safer.
The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel.