Hearing Katie Speak
September 9, 2009 § 2 Comments
As Miranda posted earlier this summer, I packed up and went to college this fall. This is my third full day on campus, actually.
Last night, my school’s entire class of 2013 had the privilege of seeing Katie Kessler speak on the topic of sexual assault and violence. Katie is a well-known and highly effective speaker. She was raped by a date on the tenth day of her freshman year at William and Mary. The police department in VA wouldn’t give her a trial because they didn’t want to spend the money on a case that they probably wouldn’t win (Katie’s attacker had a very wealthy judge for a father), so she was merely granted a 7 hour campus trial. Her attacker was found guilty at that trial, but was allowed to stay in the college. The rapist’s girlfriend (whom he beat without reprimand) made a petition against Katie’s continued place at the school; 2,000 students (of William and Mary’s 5,000) signed it. She was voted Most Dangerous Man on the campus. “Katie is a Slut Whore Bitch” was posted on the library walls. Her parents chastised her for having a boy in her room in the first place. They have never even seen her speak. Katie was given no rape kit when she went to the school’s health services, just sleeping pills and the directive to “sleep it off.”
But Katie graduated from William and Mary. She got the school to put artwork over the slander about her in the library (it’s still there, actually). She staked out a Board meeting and popped out of the bushes to introduce herself to the Trustees. She made the committee that voted her Most Dangerous Man change the name of the contest to Most Dangerous Person. And now she jets all over the country to speak to students and government officials about her story, and is founder of the organization Take Back the Night.
Katie’s story was vivid and heartbreaking. And it really effectively communicated the complexities and nuances of acquaintance rape. But I also loved how she reminded us that her story isn’t what is necessarily important. She asked us to remember that 1 in 4 women experience sexual assault within their lifetimes. And 1 in 8 men. She asked us to look at the immensity of the issue, but also at the extreme luck that we all enjoy as young people in a college setting. And how transformative we can be within our own communities, if we actively choose to protect ourselves and our friends, listen to survivors, and watch for violence. She managed to make the point that prevention and support are necessarily both individual and community efforts. My favorite part, though, was when Katie admitted that as a white, attractive, blonde woman, she speaks from a very privileged podium. As a Christian, daughter of an FBI agent, and defiled virgin, she said, “my resume was perfect.” Women of color and transpeople do not enjoy the press she does. A victimized prostitute would not be able to speak at the Pentagon as she has.
I was happy that the kids in my class were so respective of Katie and so engaged in her story, especially after hearing a nightmarish story from a new friend who attended the Hotchkiss school, where Katie spoke last year. One boy there asked her what she expected when she invited the boy back to her room. Another asked how her sex life had been affected by the ordeal, a question which she simply refused to answer. At a single-sex boy’s high school in VA, one student said “Well look at you Katie, I would have raped you too.” I go to a liberal school, a safe school, an awesome school. There are about 3,000 women in our undergraduate program. And statistically, one in four of them will be sexually assaulted. That is 750 people that I now share a home with. That is disheartening.
But I heard something when I left those lectures that made me hopeful. As we streamed out of the talk, I heard scores of people committing to protecting one another. Mind you, we’ve known each other for three days. I heard young men and young women soaking up her message and appreciating it. One of my new friends said that he would punch anyone in the face if he observed any aggressive behaviors.
I am so happy that I got to listen to Katie. But I am even happier for the reminder that there is a whole world to listen to- my world at Brown, my world at home, my world at large. Our world at large!