In the face of toxic discourse, focus on survivors of sexual assault

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Photo Credit: Rachel Tyler | Daily Texan Staff

Since Sept. 16, three women have accused Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct or assault. One of those women — Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — delivered testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 27. In front of a panel of senators, and an audience of millions across the country, Dr. Ford described a horrific assault she said she experienced while in high school.

The conversation surrounding the confirmation process has been divisive and heated since Kavanaugh’s nomination. The University of Texas is not immune to this toxic rhetoric. 

The Young Conservatives of Texas hosted a demonstration yesterday on the West Mall to voice their support for Kavanaugh’s nomination and for his claimed innocence. The event quickly spiraled into a shouting match between YCT and a group of counter-protestors about the validity of Ford’s claims, and of the stories of survivors in general.

For many women and men on our campus, and around the world, this debate has drudged up memories of the worst moments in their lives. 

Regardless of our stance surrounding the Supreme Court’s future and the country’s political environment, we as a campus must focus on providing support for survivors of sexual assault. Supporting survivors extends far beyond a single Supreme Court nomination — it is paramount in how we listen to our peers, friends and loved ones. 

Fifteen percent of UT’s female undergraduates reported sexual assault in the 2017 CLASE study. Twenty-eight percent of female undergraduates reported unwanted sexual touching. Forty-two percent of undergraduate students — both male and female — reported experiencing sexual harassment. We all deal with sexual assault and harassment, whether it be from personal experience or from knowing a survivor. 

Thankfully, resources exist to help survivors at UT.

The Counseling and Mental Health Center offers free short-term therapy for all students. The CMHC’s Voices Against Violence program also offers group counseling sessions that focus specifically on survivors of assault and gender violence. 

VAV also offers advocacy and support for students with specific needs in responding to an assault, and their office is open and welcoming for students in need. 

For students considering reporting an assault, Title IX offers direct reporting options, as well as confidential advocates who can discuss the process without filing a formal report. 

The Interpersonal Violence Peer Support program — founded last year — enables students to talk with other students who are trained in how to support survivors. The IVPS office is open for walk-ins, and meetings are confidential.

There is a good chance many of your fellow Longhorns are struggling with a personal trauma, whether you are aware of it or not. It’s important now — as always — to remain mindful about how we discuss issues that affect so many people within our Longhorn family. 

While you might support Kavanaugh’s nomination, please do so with respect for people who’ve experienced sexual harassment and assault. You don’t have to believe all women, or believe all men ­— we just ask for empathy. 

Whether because of the recent Supreme Court hearing, or the caustic demonstration on campus, survivors of sexual assault need support now more than ever. We must continue to be available as systems of support for survivors, and remain knowledgeable of the professional resources that exist on campus.

In the midst of a toxic national debate around the validity of sexual assault claims, be there for your fellow Longhorns.