Aug 07, 2017

Manifest Destiny and Sexual Assault ?

We have been taught to take pride in the ideal of manifest destiny: the justification and inevitable dominance of a seemingly unclaimed territory. Thrust upon young minds systemically through education, this lethal belief was legitimized. From the celebration of colonization, accumulation of the West, and proliferation of state’s economies, manifest destiny appeared advantageous.

In the United States, the odds of catching the common cold are reported as being lower, if not equal to the chances of being a survivor of sexual assault on a college campus. Being a component of this demographic you often hear accounts of these disturbing instances. Unfortunately, many cases are never reported due to the embarrassment and disbelief associated with this crime. Survivors are scrutinized, shamed, and subject to self-doubt even after they speak up.

On my campus I am a member of the Advocates Program: a club dedicated to supporting survivors of sexual and domestic violence, misconduct, and stalking. With a 24 hour hotline and an online chat option, we are available to our peers whenever and wherever they need us. We are required to participate in the mandatory 8 hours of AWARE training, Advocating Widespread Awareness and Rape-prevention Education, but most members like myself also choose to complete an extra 30 hours of CRCC, or Crisis Rape Counseling Certification. This allows for us to have a deeper basin of education and understanding for advocating for the LGBTQA+ community and advocating for intimate partner violence. We promote the importance of not only believing each and every survivor, but to also reassure them that it was in no way their fault.


Image from the Hunting Ground
Image from the Hunting Ground


Why should any body be subject to the discretion of another? Because boys will be boys? Because you’re in a relationship, so it doesn’t count? Because that kind of thing doesn’t happen to guys? Because your gender isn’t accepted in society or discussed so how could you begin to discuss an assault?  Because your family and friends don’t know your gay so how can you explain why you were at a gay club in the first place? Because if we try to explain away this societal issue with fictitious excuses, maybe it will just fade away?

Films like the Hunting Ground and activisim from individuals like Lady Gaga and former Vice President Joe Biden have made strides towards inviting this topic into a national conversation.  The stark reality being that the statistic still remains at 1 in 4 individuals on a college campus will be sexually assaulted during their college career.

If the idea of dominance over another to provide one’s destiny of self-pleasure is embedded into our society, how can we expect individuals in a society operating from that framework to act any differently towards one another? Acts of Congress may help to punish offenders, but the institutionalized idea is repeatedly made manifest in our society.

The law Title IX was introduced in 1972 and helps not only to create gender equality in regards to athletics and higher education, but also applies to justice for sexual violence and harassment. This piece of legislation is supposed to keep all educational institutions that receive federal funding accountable for proof of equality- key phrase: supposed to. When colleges and universities are not compliant with the strict reporting guidelines that Title IX requires, false reporting can go virtually unnoticed.

The U.S. Department of Education provides reports directly from colleges and universities that detail sexual harassment cases that include instances of sexual assault. Sadly, to uncover investigations solely regarding institutional mishandling of sexual harassment cases, one must also apply for a Freedom of Information Act request. This allows for many colleges and universities to hide behind misleading statistics, choosing to protect their brand rather than their students. This betrayal towards morality only perpetuates the feeling of righteousness igniting further acceptance of sexual violence on these campuses. 


Image from the Hunting Ground
Image from the Hunting Ground


There are some campuses now taking a new approach, called Restorative Justice, “looks more like a therapeutic intervention aimed at healing than a trial focused on guilt and punishment”  NPR’s recent piece on All Things Considered quoted.  The podcast briefly mentioned President Trump expressing interest in endorsing the concept on college campuses.  

For me it really is about systemic change.  Change in the way we educate, the way we advocate, and in the way we legislate.  Starting there will have the eventual hope of increasing awareness, understanding this as a cultural epidemic and de-stigmatization of those involved.

If you or someone you know would like support or more information pertaining to this topic please consider this resource: National Sexual Assault Hotline




Erin Nason

St. Lawrence University, Government and Rhetoric/Communication

BBB Intern Summer 2017


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