Last December, I sat down on my parents’ bathroom floor as my friend described the events of the night before — the night she was raped. This was the girl who leaned over the driver’s seat to order for both of us at Taco Bell when I was anxious, always gave me the reclining chair during seventh period, and taught me about feminism. I was shaking. Her greatest fear was being raped.
That night was not our only conversation, because the effects of rape can’t be fixed by some sympathy and a good cry. A month later, I sat in a restaurant and listened to her talk about the physical pain she was still experiencing. I sat in my car and listened to her explain why she can’t bring her case to court — she went to the hospital too late for DNA evidence to be collected.
I know I will sit and listen to her somewhere else, sometime in the future, because her abuser will receive no punishment. They will run into each other on campus or he will bubble up into her newsfeed or he will ask out one of her friends and I will sit and listen.
This is not the only time I have dealt with rape. This is not the only bathroom confession I’ve heard. This is only the most recent.
Last week, a bill that allows universities to determine when cases of rape should be reported to police passed the Utah House of Representatives. Legislators supporting House Bill 254 argue that protecting the campus community from abusers must be prioritized, even at the cost of a victim’s privacy and desires.
But protecting survivors is the only way to protect communities.
The opposite of rape is ownership of your body. Reclaiming that ownership is central to healing. If survivors are not able to control their search for justice, it is not justice.If survivors are not able to control their search for justice, it is not justice. It is not a healing process. A community where survivors do not have the ability to direct their search for justice is not a community that supports women’s autonomy.
A community that strips control from survivors is a community where women do not feel safe reporting sexual assault. It is a community where rapists will not only escape punishment, they will escape notice. Communities that fail to prioritize the needs of survivors are not safe communities.
There are ways to ensure communities are protected from serial rapists that preserve the autonomy of survivors. The Callisto Project is a reporting platform that allows survivors to electronically report rape and “enter the identity of their perpetrator, which will only be sent to their school if another student names the same perpetrator.” By ensuring repeat perpetrators are identified and information is released with the victim’s consent, Callisto allows colleges to support the decisions of survivors and protect campus communities.
Callisto was designed by asking survivors what they needed. HB 254 was not.
Rape is about power and consent. Taking power. Ignoring consent. If a lawmaker wants to combat rape, their first priority must be preserving the autonomy of the survivor. It is a lawmaker’s duty to protect the community. But it is a lawmaker’s obligation to preserve the ideals that make that community worth protecting. Our representatives claim to protect individual rights. They claim to protect privacy and citizens’ ability to make their own choices.
House Bill 254 might jail perpetrators, but it robs survivors of their autonomy a second time. There are enough roadblocks to justice. I take enough phone calls. I do not need legislators creating another one.
Olivia Whiteley is a student at Brigham Young University majoring in American Studies. She enjoys planning voter registration projects, drinking hot chocolate and going to the theater.