Trigger Warning: Conversations about sexual assault and personal violence are uncomfortable. We ask you to give yourself permission to self-care. If at any time when reading this article you become uncomfortable, please know that you can stop reading, pause and return, or do whatever you may need to at that time. Saint Anselm College offers clinical support available at the Harbor or available at Health Services and an on-call counselor who can be reached at 603-641-7000 during off hours. These spaces are judgement free zones.
I am writing this letter to the editor in response to the Saint Anselm Crier article published March 31, 2021 titled “SGA election collapse sparks campus-wide sexual misconduct conversation”.
My name is Haley Bragdon-Clements and I am a senior here at Saint A’s. A large piece of the reason I am writing this letter is because I care about this campus. I care reverently about promoting a positive culture and community here at present and for those who will embody this place after my time here is done. As commencement is swiftly approaching, I hope to see this hilltop further live out our Benedictine hospitality that we so pride ourselves in.
While I have made statements about this topic that will appear in (or has already appeared, depending on timing) a Crier Article, I think acknowledging the harm caused by this article is an important topic that must be further discussed. While I am certain that all writers of this article and in the larger Crier Newspaper staff had good intentions, it is crucial to assess not just intention but also impact. And I am writing to express the negative impact this particular article has had.
In this article, the voice of a student accussed of sexual assault is centered. While the article compiles resources to support survivors, this message is lost alongside quotes of someone who has such accusations against them. By including these quotes, the article provides this student with an outlet of power which he uses to deny the allegations and bring attention to defending his own character. The accused individual will have the opportunity to explain himself and that conversation will be had in the Title IX hearing and does not have a place in a school newspaper. Even when unintentional, there is harm that is caused by providing an accused assailant a platform such as the one provided in this piece.
This article perpetuates unjust power dynamics present in our society that make survivors publicly coming forward not only difficult, but dangerous. But the accused assailant has the freedom, privilege, and power to provide commentary. The sheer presence of quotes from someone accused promotes the idea that it is his voice that matters, his voice that is heard, and his voice that is believed. All of these ideas go against what we should be prioritizing in our campus culture – supporting and believing survivors.
While it is important to talk about sexual assault and make ourselves aware of its presence in our world and on our campus – reporting and discussing this can be done more effectively without including the voice of someone who has been accused of such offenses.
It is mentioned in the article that survivors were contacted, but this statement neglects to mention the reality that the majority of survivors do not come forward. The power dynamics are already tipped unfairly against survivors, who often fear coming forward for a wide variety of reasons. It is estimated that of college-age women who are survivors of sexual assault, only 20% report the incidents to law enforcement. That means around 80% of sexual assault cases go unreported (RAINN). It would be beneficial for this context to be acknowledged in the article.
As a school newspaper, I encourage the Crier to be mindful of these power dynamics when discussing the topic of sexual assault and making a conscious effort to not further perpetuate these power dynamics – as I believe was done in this article with the quotes from the accused assailant. If we hope to promote an inclusive community on campus where everyone’s voice matters – an article that empowers someone who has been accused of sexual assault is not the way to do so.
I encourage the student writers of the Saint Anselm Crier, and the student body in general, to consider questions such as those listed below when thinking about how to be trauma-informed and thoughtful while discussing and/or writing about this important topic.
How might the direct victim(s) feel after reading the article?
How might other victim-survivors outside of this particular incident be feeling on campus at this moment?
(reflection questions provided by the Saint Anselm College Harbor office)