by Aman Negassi

Sexual assault occurs more often than many of us realize, especially towards women.

According to the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, a woman in America is sexually assaulted every two minutes. I remember meeting a woman on International Women’s Day that the University of Rhode Island was hosting. It was at that moment that I began to see a pattern that happens with sexual assault. Whenever there is a rapist, there is always an enabler. In the case of the young woman I met, it was her own sorority. When it came down to the woman and her rapist, her sisters sided with the latter.

While this raises a lot of questions to be answered, it can be suggested that this centers on bad publicity. When the choices have been weighed involving sexual assault, often in our society it seems as if avoiding bad press has been put ahead of honesty, transparency and above all, human decency.

With regards to the past year, the world witnessed the exposure of many public figures accused of alleged misconduct that started in Hollywood leading to the news media to the United States government. When taking these stories into accounts, there were people who knew for quite some time but remained silent in collective fashion. Disgraced Hollywood Producer Harvey Weinstein is one notable example. Before the report came out about him by the New York Times, it was said that Matt Damon and Russell Crowe stopped the exposé of him back in 2004.

It was such an open secret in Hollywood that jokes were often made about it. For example, in “30 Rock,” a show on NBC that has an episode where actress Jane Krakowski’s character makes a joke about rejecting ‘sexual intercourse’ from Weinstein. This could be assumed to be a reference to showcase her bravery about the fate of her career.

At the 2013 Oscars, Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy creator, made a joke after naming the nominees for Best Supporting Actresses, “Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” When asked what she would advise to any aspiring actress moving to Hollywood, Courtney Love in 2005 said, “If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a party at the Four Seasons, don’t go.” Love also said she was banned by the Creative Artists Agency (CAA) because of that.

This highlights how much Weinstein had power over his victims not just due to his position as a producer owning a successful film company but because he was enabled to. His transgressions were no secret, but no one stood up to him until the New York Times exposé for the sake of their careers. It’s ironic that many of these public figures talk about having these campaigns against sexual assault and indecency while turning a blind eye to the same issues in their backyard.

The solution I see to this is that sexual assault victims, as well as those who have been harassed, need more representation. There needs to be the removal for the fear of reprisal in favor of a platform where people can be heard before judgement can be made. Due process should still be respected. As a service member with the Armed Forces, there is a different approach we take to sexual assault that other institutions, especially colleges, do not take.

Our approach is through the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) of Defense, an organization responsible for the oversight of sexual assault policy. The policy implemented on the Armed Forces facilitates actions like contacting the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC). SARC serves for anonymous reporting where those who call to report sexual assault or harassment can remain anonymous until they choose not to. This facilitates safety from reprisal as the individual can confide in those seeking to better their situation. It’s a team effort where there’s a collaboration in support for the victim. This story in this article serves as an example.

Moral courage is being able to stand up to bullies regardless of whether the audience is cheering or jeering. Before we focus on policy and legislation in colleges, it’s important we start with ourselves as a community. Sexual assault impacts everybody whether they are the victim or know one. The question is if you know, are you going to be part of the solution to the problem or are you going to exacerbate it.