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Stopping sexual assault: be an active bystander

By Elizabeth MerinoAssistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

Like a typical college student, I went to a house party last Saturday night. A good friend of mine was hosting, and I promised I would be there. It wasn’t super crowded when we first arrived, but I stayed close to my friend anyway. We were doing the buddy system perfectly.

We stopped in the kitchen to talk to another friend of ours. My back was turned to a group of seven or eight guys — friends of friends, I assumed. Then I felt it. One of the guys grabbed my ass. It was not a slight brush, like he was trying to pass me in a cramped space. It was not accidental; it was not followed by an apology. It was a firm and deliberate grip. I was completely shocked. The kitchen may have been small, but the lights were still on. People could see. I could see.

Hofstra’s website reports 6,840 undergraduate students, 53 percent of whom are female. According to a recent New York Times article, “Stepping Up to Stop Sexual Assault,” one in five college women will be a victim of sexual assault. By that statistic, 725 women on Hofstra’s campus will be victims.

I turned around and confronted the group with something along the lines of “What the f— is your problem?” All I received in return were smirking faces, laughing and jostling of shoulders like it was the funniest thing in the world. No one owned up to it.

According to the United States Department of Justice, “sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling and attempted rape.”

“Was it my jeans?” I asked myself. Maybe they were too tight; maybe I shouldn’t have worn them. But then, I thought, I wear them to class. Would he have grabbed me if he saw me walking across the unispan? Was it because my back was turned? Was that an invitation for him to grab me like he owned me? Would he look me in the eye and reach his hand around my body and do it again?

Then I thought that maybe I was overreacting. Was this something that always happened at parties? Should I be okay with it? What if he had been a stranger on the street instead of a stranger at a party?

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), strangers commit 27 percent of sexual assaults. No, I didn’t know this person. To be honest I don’t remember what anyone in the group looked like; but I do know they went to Hofstra. And though I obviously don’t count everyone here as a friend but I do count them as a peer, an equal.

I was upset that he grabbed me, but I was more upset and disappointed that no one stood up for me. If I saw this happen to someone else, I would step in. What if I had been really drunk, or had lost my friend and was all alone? Would anyone have told him to back off, to watch himself?

Nobody defended me. No one said, “Hey, man, that’s not cool,” or “That’s not how you treat a girl.” Out of that whole circle of guys, not one seemed to care. Not one seemed bothered at all by what his friend did.

“Bystanders must be taught and emboldened to step in and stop it,” said President Obama at a recent White House meeting on sexual violence, according to the New York Times.

If we don’t stand up for each other, who will?

Someone later told me to take it as a compliment — that the guys found me attractive; I was hot, sexy, wanted. They felt the best way to tell me was not to speak to me, but to grope me.

Objectifying someone is not nice, and it’s not fair. In one touch, he took everything that I am and reduced it to nothing. My words and thoughts, my capabilities and accomplishments disappeared under his grip.

I’m not sure if the guy who grabbed me will read this, but I hope he does. I hope he’s embarrassed, because I’m not. I’m embarrassed for him and his friends. I did nothing wrong. All I did was stand. I stood at a party, and I turned my back to a group of guys. I could be anyone. I could be you.

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