Crimson article about our Rape Culture Speak-Out!

Just an hour later, students gathered at Holden Chapel to share their reflections on rape culture in a event called “Speak Out,” which discussed rape culture in a forum setting.

Organizers said they sought to create a space where students could feel comfortable speaking about rape. “When it comes to rape culture, it’s very much associated with silence,” said Amanda J. Gokee ’14, a co-organizer of the event.

Those in attendance were asked to adhere to a code of confidentiality about the contents of the speakers’ presentations.

Although seven speakers were arranged ahead of time, sign-up sheets were passed around and members of the audience were invited to participated.

“The sheer act of talking about [rape] can be really empowering,” Kate Sim ’14 said, the founder of Our Harvard Can Better, which organized the event.

In her opening remarks, Sim said her group hoped to encourage scrutiny of the rape culture prevalent at Harvard and greater society.

“Rape culture really comes down to a set of social norms that constrain meaningful interaction and vilify sexuality that affects all of us as survivors and allies,” Sim said.

Our Harvard Can Do Better was also responsible for organizing the petition to put the affirmative consent referendum on the Undergraduate Council ballot. In addition to the ballot, which passed by a landslide majority, recent months at Harvard have seen the news of twoalleged rapes in and near Harvard Yard in August and hearty discussion of a former Amherst student’s account of her experience dealing with administrators after she was raped.

Cyatharine M. Alias ’15, who attended “Speak Out,” said the event covered more than “Sex Signals,” the program during freshman orientation week.

“I think it touched on a variety of things that other performances like Sex Signals don’t really talk about, like the healing process and the gay community,” Alias said.

Representatives from a number of campus peer counseling groups were present, both to speak out themselves and be on hand for those who might wish to seek out help after the event.

Read more: Two Events Continue Campus Conversation About Sexual Assaul


Dismantling Rape Culture

check out our op-ed about rape culture written by our organizers! from the Harvard Crimson:

Angie Epifano’s recent account of sexual assault at Amherst College brought national attention to the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. In an article, she described reporting her sexual assault to the Amherst administration and the administration’s egregious response to her case—which included institutionalizing her against her will and refusing to allow her to study abroad, all while making no effort at all to punish her rapist.

At about the same time, we joined with other Harvard students to start a campaign on campus called Our Harvard Can Do Better. To encourage Harvard to re-examine its sexual assault policies and practices, the campaign put a referendum on the recent Undergraduate Council ballot calling for reform in sexual assault policy. The overwhelming student support that this referendum generated (it passed with 85 percent of the vote) suggests that undergraduates are alarmed at aspects of Harvard’s policy, including the use of the phrase “mental incapacitation” without an explanation of exactly what this means and Harvard’s lack of a policy of affirmative consent.

However, while the referendum was mainly policy-driven, what lies at the heart of sexual assault issues on campuses everywhere is the ubiquity and persistence of rape culture, a societal attitude that delegitimizes sexual violence and predisposes people to excuse rapists. Furthermore, this culture creates a general understanding of sexual violence that is limited to heterosexual relationships, thereby delegitimizing non-heterosexual violence. Unfortunately, rape culture is an inescapable aspect of American life today.

A central feature of rape culture is that the main burden of rape prevention is put on potential victims rather than on potential perpetrators, and alleged instances of this can be found on our campus. For example, Johany Pilar, who works in the Freshman Mailroom, told students and coworkers last month that she was sexually harassed at work. Pilar says that when she reported this, she was told that it was probably because she gave too many hugs. This is a prime example of victim-blaming, which happens when people suggest that victims are assaulted because they have not “done enough” to prevent assault. This focuses attention away from the fact that the aggressor acted by their own volition. And unfortunately, stories like Johany Pilar’s—stories that demonstrate the ways in which sexual assault is normalized and explained away in our society—are all too common.

Rape culture is real at Harvard, and is perhaps even more pervasive on campus due to Harvard’s history as an all-male institution. We reinforce rape culture through the ways that we conduct ourselves every day, especially through our language. Trivializing rape with phrases such as “that exam raped me” subtly changes our understanding of sexual assault so that we think of it in a lighthearted way, and strips the word “rape” of much of its meaning until it does not reflect the enormity of the violence that so many experience. This trivialization, in turn, contributes to a culture that does not acknowledge the presence of rape in our communities—leading us to question the veracity of victims’ experiences.

Furthermore, saying things that express public or male control of people’s bodies, especially women’s, shifts the way that we understand bodily agency. People subtly reinforce the idea that women’s bodies exist to be commented upon and dominated through everyday speech. For example, they might tell a woman that she should be grateful when a stranger on the street comments on her body, criticize women for wearing either not enough clothing or too much clothing, or suggest to men that the only important outcome of an interaction with a woman is whether they sleep with her. Statements and suggestions like these cause women to feel less autonomy over their bodies, and pressure men to speak about women in a way that implies domination and conquest on their parts. This distortion of our public understanding of who has control over bodies, and to what level they hold that control, is another important way in which rape culture is reinforced.

We all perpetuate rape culture when we fail to speak up against victim-blaming and slut-shaming comments. However, the fact that we all reinforce this culture means that we also can all take part in dismantling it.

Next Tuesday, there will be a rape culture speak-out, a gathering of people dedicated to creating a safe space in which they can share their experience with rape culture and listen to the voices of others. Our hope is that the speak-out will provide an opportunity not only to validate our experiences but also to demonstrate the solidarity and support that we feel for each other. The speak-out will allow us to recognize that our experiences with rape culture are not isolated incidents, but rather a collective struggle. We hope that through hearing these personal narratives of pain, struggle, and resistance that are so often silenced, students at Harvard will begin to rethink some of their behaviors, and that we can all move toward a common discourse and set of behaviors that are conscious, thoughtful, and productive in dismantling rape culture.

Reed E. McConnell ’15 is a social anthropology concentrator in Quincy House. Kate Sim ’14 is a joint social studies and studies of women, gender, and sexuality concentrator in Quincy House.


rape culture speak-out

“silence has the rusty taste of shame” – Angie Epifano, The Amherst Student 

rape culture speak-out
tuesday, december 4 | 7-9pm | holden chapel
rsvp here
What is rape culture? 
Rape culture describes a culture in which sexual violence is normalized so that 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men experience sexual assault in their lifetime. Rape culture is trivializing rape with phrases like, “I got raped by my exam.” It is victim blaming that teaches people “Don’t get raped” instead of “Don’t rape.” It is accusing rape survivors for not taking care of themselves and “asking for it.” It is a set of social norms that constrain meaningful interaction and vilify sexuality that affects all of us as survivors and allies.  
What is a speak-out?
Speak-out is a gathering of people to create a safer space in which they can share their experience and listen to the voices of others. It serves to validate our experiences, recognize that we are not alone, and show solidarity to each other.  
Who can speak?
Students of all genders are welcome to speak, but we ask that only students attend the speak-out. Rape culture affects all peoples, from women who are disproportionately affected by sexual violence to LGBTQ folks who have to legitimize non-heterosexual violence to male bystanders who are called “p***ies” for being allies to ridiculous advertisements. It can be a story of frustration and resistance, survival and solidarity, anger and hope–anything, really. You can prepare a written piece or ad lib it as you wish. If you are interested in speaking or would like to learn more, please email 
our harvard can do better
fighting sexual assault and rape culture at Harvard

3 Referenda Speak Out today!

Find us in front of Thayer at 2PM for a speak out about 3 referenda!! Come hear about why Harvard should:

  1. Divest from fossil fuel industry – Students for a Just & Sustainable Future
  2. Reform sexual assault policies/practices – Our Harvard Can Do Better campaign to fight rape culture
  3. Create social choice fund – Responsible Investment