“Along with other forms of sexual assault, it belongs to that class of indignities against the person that cannot ever be fully righted, and that diminishes all humanity.”
Mary M. v. City of Los Angeles, Supreme Court of California
A considerable heaviness overwhelmed the Queens campus last week.
A rape had allegedly occurred and slicing through any compassion shown toward the supposed victim was the ugly face of condemnation and rumor.
For every person whispering or thinking “that poor girl” there seemed to be two saying, “It’s a shame, but she brought it upon herself.”
People, armed with only bare bones information found in the New York Post and a University press release, made assumptions that were both cruel and baseless.
It was an education to see the lack of compassion and the permeation of pure defamation. How quickly people spread falsities is a well-documented problem on the elementary, middle, and high school level, but in college it is simply appalling.
Maybe I was just na√ÉØve.
The problem is that the original Post stories were contradictory, with several key points within the story changing over the course of three days and three different stories. In addition, the St. John’s release was necessarily ambiguous and the most “credible” source at the time seemed to be the spoken word, something that does not require any accountability.
“I think it could be devastating depending on the inaccuracy,” Dr. W. David Harmon, director of the Counseling Center said referring to possible inaccuracies within the print media. “What does a mother and father who lives out in the wilds of Staten Island or Long Island think? What will they say? The inaccuracy is also a slap at the institution itself.”
With my own limited exposure to the Residence Village, the word of mouth tales inexplicably offered several different scenarios, which included the following falsehoods:
The victim was drunk and coked up.
The victim had brought four men back to her room and reneged on a previously promised sexual act, therefore prompting her own rape.
The victim was raped by members of an athletic team.
The rumor that made it personal and quite frankly made me nauseous was that the victim probably was asking for it and hence probably deserved it.
It would be hard to focus my intense disgust with this mentality without the emotional anecdote that the alleged victim told our news editor.
“I had my sunglasses on,” the alleged victim said, recounting a moment inside an elevator where a group of girls were talking about the rape. “I started crying. I wanted to be like ‘You’ve got to watch what you’re saying.'”
What seems lost throughout this entire episode is the fact that this is a human being, a person with thoughts and feelings.
An 18-year-old freshman on our campus has been subjected to what the U.S. Supreme Court in 1977 referred to as the "ultimate violation of self."
The majority decision in Coker v. Georgia also stated that “Rape is very often accompanied by physical injury to the female and can also inflict mental and psychological damage. Because it undermines the community’s sense of security, there is public injury as well."
However, we must realize that the public injury runs a distant second to the damage a rape victim endures, and will live with every day of her life.
“All of us need to be careful in terms of rumors and speculation,” Father James Maher, senior vice president of student affairs, told The Torch on Tuesday.
We must view this as a crime and refrain from passing judgment on the victim of that crime.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, approximately 2 percent of college women have reported being raped, and in 90 percent of the cases the attacker was known to the victim.
According to the Journal of Counseling and Development, women aged 16√¢?”24 are at the highest risk of sexual assault.
“I’m really concerned about the victim,” Harmon said. “Even though her name is not printed she wakes up and reads the paper and sees the stories. If there are inaccuracies it hurts more.”
The news stories will end, the pain will dull, and this student will continue her college education while forever carrying a burden and a scar. It is up to the St. John’s community to ensure that this load is lightened and not made unbearable in the coming months and years.
“Students are here to get their degree, and we want to create an environment where they can develop academically, personally, socially, and spiritually, and we want to do that also balancing the safety of our students and the campus community as well,” Maher said.
Before we engage in this convoluted juggling act, we must first take a hint from our own mission statement, which at one point states that, “We embrace the Judeo-Christian ideals of respect for the rights and the dignity of every person and each individual’s responsibility for the world in which we live.”
The rights and the dignity of one person have been trampled upon, let us all help in the healing process.