Every year Biola University, as well as tons of other schools and organizations, dedicate the month of April to raising awareness around sexual assault prevention. As I sit at my laptop writing this post, I am aware of the immense depth of this conversation. For some of you, the very words “sexual assault” trigger something deeply ugly and painful inside. You may be weary of this month-long programming that is meant to prevent a devastating reality that has already occurred for you. You may be pessimistic, and rightfully so. The realities of sexual assault are so much deeper than what we can even attempt to address in a simple blogpost such as this.
However, my hope, and everyone’s hope here at GRIT, is that you have the knowledge that you are not alone and that your voice deserves to be heard. We may not have all of the answers as to how we should properly address and effectively prevent sexual assault, but this month we dedicate to shedding light on a subject that affects so many of our students in the shadows.
That being said, this post is going to be a long one. We wanted to give this topic the space it deserves, considering its weight. So get comfortable, and if you feel so inclined, take notes.
A Few Definitions
First things first: How do you know if you’ve been sexually assaulted?
Contrary to popular belief, the lines of what is considered sexual assault can be quite blurred when a clear definition of consent is not made known.
So, what is consent?
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), defines consent as an “agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” The simple way of putting it is: Yes means yes. No always means no. However, when we talk about consent, it is important to evaluate even the nature of one’s “yes.” Even when two people are kissing or making out, there must be a continual line of communication throughout the encounter. Explicit agreements should be made throughout the encounter, rather than assuming that “yes” to one activity is a “yes” to another. RAINN uses the example that “agreeing to kiss someone doesn’t give that person permission to remove your clothes.” Additionally, consent should be given every time an act is performed between two people. A person’s “yes” one day, does not necessitate a “yes” for the next time.
Consent can also be withdrawn at any point within a sexual encounter. If you say “yes” to a specific act during an encounter, but later begin to feel discomfort, you are more than allowed to make that discomfort known. If you are on the receiving end of your partner withdrawing consent, you must respect their boundaries and refrain from the activity.
More information about consent can be found here: https://www.rainn.org/articles/what-is-consent
Long story short, consent is only truly consent if clear and continuous “yes’s” are said between both parties, throughout an encounter. If a partner says “no” or doesn’t respond at all, that is not consent, and is considered sexual assault.
If your head is hurting after that influx of information, there is no need to worry. This graph is an extremely helpful and easy to use tool when evaluating whether or not you have been sexually assaulted (originally posted at www.speakupbiola.com):
Using Your Voice
Secondly, if you recognize that you have been sexually assaulted there are many ways for your voice to be heard.
We understand that because of the severity of many sexual assault cases, every survivor may have differing desires for the ways in which they want to be heard. For that reason, there are both confidential and non-confidential avenues for reporting sexual assault on Biola’s campus.
If you report your sexual assault to the Health Center or at Biola’s Counseling Center, your assault will not be reported to the university. These resources are meant to be safe spaces for sexual assault survivors who wish to process their assault as well as seek avenues for physical, mental and emotional healing.
If you wish to report your sexual assault to the university, there are a couple of ways to do so. Biola’s pastoral care team is comprised of women and men who are trained to listen well to your experience. They will help you navigate your experience, as well as work with you to report your assault to the University. Here are the photos and names of our pastoral care team:
Dawn White, our Title IX coordinator, is another person to whom you can report your sexual assault. Dawn is trained to assist survivors of sexual assault in various ways throughout the process of reporting an assault. You can contact Dawn directly via email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone: (562)944-0351 ext. 5887. Her office is located in the student services building on campus.
You can learn more about Dawn’s role and the process of reporting a sexual assault to the University here: https://studenthub.biola.edu/sexual-assault-response
On Sexual Assault and Breaking Community Standards
It’s not unusual for sexual assaults to happen when alcohol is present: one national study states that 43% of reported sexual assault incidents involve alcohol consumption by victims and 69% involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrators. Another study found that 90% of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol. (https://www.campussafetymagazine.com/safety/sexual...)
The close connection between sexual assault and alcohol use gets tricky at Biola, because fear about breaking community standards prevents students from reporting what has happened. Here’s what you need to know: Biola has an amnesty policy for cases of sexual assault. When you report a sexual assault to Biola and alcohol was involved, you won’t get in trouble for breaking community standards. Biola cares about getting you the care and resources you need, and the infraction will be overlooked for the sake of the investigation.
A Word for Biola’s Christian Context
Lastly, I want to acknowledge the fact that being in a Christian community does not make us immune to these issues. There are countless stories from women and men alike that attest to the fact that we must be held just as accountable to preventing sexual assault as the rest of the world. It is important to recognize as well the vulnerability of Christian women when it comes to sexual assault.
In evangelical culture, women have historically been encouraged to be obedient to the leadership of men. This teaching comes from passages like “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). And while I am not seeking to make an argument for either side of the evangelical gender debate in this post, I must acknowledge there are ways in which this aspect of our culture can unintentionally cause women to ignore their own desires in order to meet the desires of a male partner who does not have her best in mind.
But as Biola students, we’ve been taught to look for context, to avoid proof-texting, and to understand the big picture of Scripture’s teaching. In evangelical contexts and teaching around leadership, we sometimes miss the crucial thesis statement governing “submission” passages, seen so clearly in Ephesians 5: “Submit to one another” (Eph 5:21). Over and again, Scripture details submission among all the people of God, mutual respect and love as foundational to all relationships (check out the whole of Ephesians 5!). It is important for us in our evangelical context to acknowledge the ways that weak understanding and teaching on submission, respect and love have resulted in a culture of “blind submission” and abuse of power that is far from the biblical vision for flourishing relationships.
As women, we have all been created in God’s image, with capacities for agency, with the responsibility to respect and love God’s image in us and God’s image in the other. No matter your convictions about the place of women in the Church or in marriage, you have complete agency to say “no” in situations of discomfort when it comes to sexual encounters. Men are also called to respect women’s agency and recognize their own equal responsibility to ensure that their partners feel safe during sexual encounters. This is biblical submission.
We are all created in the divine image of the Almighty God. If we wish to truly eradicate the occurrence of sexual assault at Biola, we must work together. This is our time. This is our work. It’s on us.
Celeste and The GRIT Team