BY: MICAH MUDLAFF CONTRIBUTOR
Editor’s Note: This piece contains descriptions of sexual assault.
Whether in Student Government, ROTC, as a resident advisor (RA) or in Greek Life, I have done what I can to make the prevention of sexual violence an important issue in the organizations I am a part of. I am encouraged by students’ willingness to take a stand on this issue, and it’s clear that we have gotten to the point where nearly everyone has awareness of the need for changes on campus and in our society.
But my efforts to promote positive changes have not always been well received, most notably due to the opposition I receive to my passion for certain issues — specifically, mandatory reporting. This policy is detrimental to the wellbeing of survivors, but I have received significant pushback for saying this.
I oppose mandatory reporting and believe it is a reckless policy because it creates a major disincentive to reporting. During RA training in the winter of 2018, we were told that if we thought a resident was about to speak to us about sexual violence, we should stop the conversation in order to tell the resident that we were mandatory reporters. This guidance was given knowing that it would prompt many students to not inform us of their personal situation.
Not only that, but the mandatory reporter policy for RAs applies to situations that don’t involve residents. A friend could contact someone who’s an RA wanting to talk about an instance of sexual violence. The friend may have just experienced sexual violence, or it could have happened years ago and never been shared. Either way, in those cases, the RA’s duty is to help his or her friend, not pause to talk about mandatory reporting rules. There is no time for that.
I usually don’t receive pushback on these points. Rather, those who disagree with me nearly always criticize what is their own presumption about my experience and biases. While speaking about sexual violence during RA training in the summer of 2017, a professional staff member declared that I must be incapable of empathy towards survivors. In a sexual assault prevention training at the University of Maryland for ROTC, I was told I was “victim blaming” because of my insistence that the training we were receiving was not actually addressing the issue. No matter what the situation is, I hear over and over again that my views must be wrong because I allegedly have no idea what it is like to experience something like this.
I respectfully disagree.
While I was in high school, I was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions. When I was finally able to fight back, my assaulter used the bruises and scrapes I had given him against me to ensure I wouldn’t report him, as my school’s zero-tolerance policy for bullying and hazing was often enforced with immediate and prompt dismissal.
In the summer of 2018, I was told I would be accused of abuse if I did not agree to continue a relationship I was not interested in. I said no, but that didn’t matter. She knew about my past experience, and she tried to use that against me. Over the course of that fall, she would repeatedly show up at places where I was, both on campus and off. This only stopped when my Resident Director intervened; I submitted a police report and a Title IX report in response to this incident.
When some have heard my opinion, they make assumptions about me and my experience without knowing the full story. I presume this is because I don’t fit the conventional understanding of what a survivor looks like. After all, I am male. But I believe the stereotypical notions of survivors and assailants are harmful to the discussion of sexual violence as we learn how prevalent and pervasive this problem has become.
Usually my views are considered valid only after I share my experiences with sexual violence. We can’t have honest conversations about preventing sexual violence because we’ve put social constraints on what we can say and who can say it. I firmly believe that my position on mandatory reporting is far better for survivors, but had I published the first part of this piece without any reference to my own experiences, how many people would have criticized me personally instead of my ideas?
Perhaps somebody has new evidence or can point to examples where mandatory reporting has been beneficial. That is a discussion we ought to have, and it is precisely for this reason why dialogue on this topic should be encouraged. We have gotten to the point where we need to move on from raising awareness to making changes, but we’re not going to be able to do that if we can’t have honest conversations about the changes that need to take place.
In four years worth of dialogue and discussions I have had with housing staff, the Title IX office, law enforcement officials, military officers from ROTC and fellow students, more often than not my concerns are dismissed out of hand. The validity of my opinion should not depend on others’ perceptions of my own experience. It’s unfair to survivors, and it limits our ability to discuss meaningful ways to prevent sexual violence.