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Letter to the Editor: Stop invalidating victims' reactions to unwanted contact

Oct. 26, 2012

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The MU Police Department emailed a Clery release to students about a woman who was assaulted Wednesday morning.

The woman was walking to Ellis Library when a stranger “came up behind her” and “wrapped his arms around her.” She “tried to free herself but was unable to get free.” Another person approached them and the man said, “Oh, I thought you were someone else,” and ran away.

This may tickle your funny bone. "Poor kid," you might think. "Thought he was playing a joke on his friend and ended up embarrassing himself by hugging a stranger."

But let’s look at it from another perspective.

I’m walking down the street on my way to class. I’m thinking about the test that’s coming up, the paper I need to start or my plans for Homecoming. All of a sudden, there is a strange man with his arms around me. I struggle to free myself, but he won’t let go. I am terrified.

If I was grabbed and couldn’t free myself, I believe it would be reasonable for me to call the police. If I gave this guy the benefit of the doubt – if I assumed he really did mistake me for a friend – then he might try the same thing with another woman. If it really was a mistake, then the police will figure that out. The dominant attitude around campus seems to be that this young woman overreacted. That she was being silly, and it’s funny that this is considered assault. And that the poor kid is the victim here.

Jokes on Twitter make fun of the woman and give sympathy to the suspect.

“Not an assault, he thought she was his friend,” tweeted @dinell2k12_. “Calm down girl! I bet she’s the kinda girl that yells ‘RAPE!’ when a [expletive deleted] says hi lol #Clery.” Many other tweets expressed similar sentiments.

It’s OK to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. And it’s OK to think that the guy probably didn’t mean any harm. But it is NEVER OK to invalidate another person’s feelings.

You don’t know this girl. She may be a survivor of power-based interpersonal violence, and this man grabbing her was a trigger.

You don’t know this guy. He may not be a nice person, and the attack may have been intentional. Another Clery release Thursday indicated that he may be responsible for another assault on campus.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, then why are you talking?

–Kylee Mattoon,

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