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Sunday, October 13,2013

Rally, march take firm stand against 'rape culture'

By Evan Peter Smith
photo 1
Photo Credits: Evan Peter Smith
Photo Caption: Students and community members march Friday to raise awareness of problems relating to sexual harassment and assault at Ohio University.

Sydney was there because she says she lost her faith in Ohio University.

"I had a terrible experience," she said. "I thought it would be a shoo-in case. I actually had a ton of evidence, and then they turned my case down. It was a debate that lasted over two hours, and I lost. Afterwards, my mentor called the (OU campus) Judiciaries and asked, 'So what then? Are you telling her that this didn't happen? Is that it? It just didn't happen?' So that's why I'm here. I love this school, but I lost a lot of faith in OU."

The F@#K RAPE CULTURE rally Friday afternoon began at the bottom of East Union Street's Jeff Hill, a collection of young men and women who had gathered to raise awareness of problems related to sexual harassment and assault at OU. The group, organized just one month earlier by OU students Allie Erwin and Claire Chadwick, wants OU to do the following:

1. Require sexual harassment training for student workers.

2. Include consent education for specific groups because of their relationship with Ohio University, such as athletic teams and Greek Life.

3. Offer guarantees that victims of sexual violence who are under the age of 21 will be officially exempt from alcohol charges in connection with a reported rape or assault. (The idea is to remove anything that might discourage a student from reporting a sexual assault.)

Some of these goals already have been – or are in the process of being – achieved.

The rally was the group's most public event thus far, a march down Court Street replete with loud chanting, large signs and topless students of both genders. People stopped to watch the march pass by. They leaned out windows, looked out from porches and balconies. Cars were blocked at intersections, waiting for the large collection of bodies to move on. The march ended at College Green, where speakers addressed the crowd.

"I just want to let you know of how proud I am of all of you for coming out," declared the group's cofounder Chadwick, speaking through a megaphone. "We started this group because we realized we were sick and tired... We were sick of all the blaming from people, including from the OUPD, who are supposed to protect and serve, and we are sick of getting shut down by the administration."

Taking part in the rally were Devin Aeh and Sarah Fick, members of Hollaback, a group that was founded in 2005 with goals similar to those of F@#K RAPE CULTURE, especially relating to street harassment.

"We are a community-based program," said Fick and Aeh, speaking in turns, "but we recognize students as an active part of our community, and we recognize that the negative aspects of OU culture affect community members' experience of their town, so we feel we have a vested interest in helping and supporting the work of F@#K RAPE CULTURE however we can."

One of the methods by which both groups hope to change the culture at OU is through storytelling. By empowering survivors of harassment, assault and rape to come forward with their stories, they say they hope to end the pattern of silence and hopefully bring the issue to the forefront of conversation on campus.

Already they have made progress, they say, bringing together people like Sydney and others, who have had personal experiences with the difficulties in coming forward and seeking help. They also have made strides with the administration and are currently negotiating policies regarding sexual harassment training for student workers. In addition, they have achieved an official and public amnesty from the university for victims regardless of what they were doing at the time of their assault or rape, and also have succeeded in bringing courses focusing explicitly on consent education to the university.

In this regard, the rally was a celebration of sorts. 

"We all have the right of equal dignity and respect," said group co-founder Erwin. "Today is a celebration, but it's also a reminder of why we exist and why there's a need for a group like F@#K RAPE CULTURE. We won't stop until the disrespect, the violence, the rape and the cat-calling ends."

And, just to dispel the notion that these group members are in some way overly politically correct or uptight, after the rally, they had party at Chadwick's house.


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