DePaul student, allies “blame the system” in sexual assault march

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meagan anderson

DePaul student Meagan Anderson stands next to a DePaul sign holding up a poster saying that photo evidence was not enough for DePaul to expel the man who sexually assaulted her. (Photo courtesy of MEAGAN ANDERSON)

Women and men marched together in the Loop last Sunday to speak out against rape, rape culture and gender violence in a demonstration organized by the group Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation, or FURIE.

The march, called Blame the System Not the Victim, focused on the fight against “rape on college campuses to police violence targeting women and trans people of color and systemic gender violence permeating all levels of society,” according to the group’s Facebook page.

Among those in attendance was Meagan Anderson, a survivor of sexual violence whose Instagram picture has gone viral. In the photo, she is standing next to a DePaul University sign holding up a poster that reads, “#blamethesystem because photo evidence wasn’t enough to convince DePaul to expel my rapist.”

The post has been shared on Facebook more than 1,000 times, many by DePaul students, highlighting the ongoing issue of sexual assault on campus and how universities are handling that problem.

In a response to questions regarding the photo, a spokeswoman for the university said due to “federal legislation that protects the privacy of student records, federal law prohibits us from discussing the details of specific cases.”

However, they added that “lack of information regarding details of specific incidents involving students and the Student Conduct Process should not be misconstrued as lack of action on the part of the university.  Most important, DePaul is committed to providing and maintaining a healthy learning and working environment that is free of sexual and relationship violence.”

In cases like Anderson’s, the university said it follows a student conduct process.

[box]View general information about the student conduct process here. [/box]

At DePaul, there have been other protests focusing on sexual assault and the way the university’s administration has handled them — most notably the banner drop in Arts and Letters Hall a year ago, as well as Take Back the Night and Carry that Weight — but FURIE’s protest allowed Anderson, and those like her, to speak out about the injustices within the system not just for themselves, but for others in similar situations.

“In the past, I’d never felt like I had the strength and togetherness to make a sign and march and yell about things I care about,” Anderson said of the experience. She had never protested before.

A report by the White House Council on Women and Girls issued in January 2014 found that one in five women, or nearly 22 million women, and one in 71 men, or nearly 1.6 million, have been raped in their lifetimes. In about 80 percent of the assaults, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the offender was known to the victim, which is true in Anderson’s case.

Sunday’s march was not the first of its kind, but it did come close to home. It allowed senior Theresa Bailey to reflect on her own experience as a sexual violence survivor, and as an ally to Anderson, she said. She believes dialogue is perhaps one way forward, though change may not be right around the corner. As for whether or not these protests are helpful, Bailey has mixed feelings.

“They bring attention to issues, such as these, but I don’t think a march is always the best way to change minds,” Bailey said about possibilities for change. “I (don’t think it will happen) in the next five years. But in the next 50? Yes. I think open discussion of consent has been a change of the last few years.”

Though Anderson and Bailey feel that marches like these are helpful in increasing awareness, they agree that more has to be done to “change minds.”

Better education on these matters and encouraging people to listen to victims without demanding they explain themselves, Bailey suggested, is one way to begin making broader systemic changes on campus and across the country.

“In the moment, it feels like it, with all the energy and the passersby stopping to take video or give a shout of approval. But I’ve never seen a smaller protest like this be addressed by a member of university administration or a lawmaker,” Anderson said about the potential for marches in regards to change.

“As much as I’d like to think that these things actually can effect change, I don’t think the societal change will happen until the people with the real influence address what’s going on and show their support,” she said. “Right now it’s just one person at a time.”