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SMU Op-Ed Sparks Controversy About Rape & Victim Blaming

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DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - An op-ed published in the SMU student newspaper is sparking a national conversation about rape and victim blaming.

SMU journalism major Kirby Wiley wrote the piece in the November 1 edition of the Daily Campus.

The article is titled, “Women: Prevent Sexual Assaults, Drinking Responsibly May Reduce Risk Factor,” and in it, Wiley addresses rape at the college level.

She writes, “Is the blame being placed in the right place?” and “If the media would focus more attention on the fact that the majority of women who are sexually assaulted are intoxicated as opposed to stating and restating how horrible the perpetrator is, then maybe young women would start to listen.”

Wiley says her basis for the editorial grew from watching coverage of a rape case at Vanderbilt University.

“I feel the facts of a woman being too intoxicated should also be included in reports, not to place blame or any additional stress on the victim, but rather to inform other women of this factor that studies have shown increases the risk of sexual assault,” Wiley wrote to CBS11 in an email.

Media outlets around the U.S., including CNN, picked up her article, citing the continuing debate on victim blaming – the message of “don’t get raped” as opposed to “don’t rape.”

Students on the SMU campus are talking about it, too.

The op-ed prompted members of SMU’s SPECTRUM and WIN (Women’s Interest Network) to create an online petition at Change.org, calling on the Daily Campus newspaper to “Stop publishing articles contributing to rape culture and misogyny in general.”

“We are just focusing on the sensitivity of the issue and trying to work toward a better dialogue on this campus,” said Danielle Palomo, President of WIN.

“The fact that the author didn’t realize, or didn’t mean to victim blame shows how bad rape culture is,” said Shelbi Smith.

To date, 345 people have signed the online petition in support. SPECTRUM and WIN also met with the Daily Campus to discuss their concerns.

“We have a responsibility to survivors to prevent and to educate,” said Samuel Partida, another member of SPECTRUM.

Upon reading the article, the executive director of The Turning Point Rape Crisis Center told CBS 11, it’s a stance she’s heard before.

“The intention of the article, just in my opinion, was that [the author] was concerned. She was thinking, ‘these poor girls who are being sexually assaulted, can’t we do something to help them?’ That is a good place to come from, though there’s a lot of education that needs to happen,” said Jennifer Spugnardi.

The Turning Point provides counseling, education, and advocacy for rape victims in Collin County.

In the last decade, Spugnardi has observed a shift in rape education, away from risk reduction (telling women how to protect themselves from becoming victims) and toward primary prevention (stopping the criminal’s behavior).

Why the shift? She says the old stance has proven ineffective, even if the intentions were good.

“Things like not drinking are not really going to reduce your chances of being sexually assaulted. You can still be sexually assaulted if you never take a drop of alcohol in your life,” Spugnardi said.

“If we really want to prevent sexual violence, then we really need to look at things in a different way. So the primary prevention model is sort of the newest model of looking at that. If you want to boil that down to a couple of words, it’s ‘don’t rape,’” Spugnardi said.

Kirby Wiley declined to do an on-camera interview, and responded over email.

She wrote to CBS 11, “I regret my wording of the piece and understand how readers of my column may believe that I was placing blame on the victim. If I could rewrite the article, I would because I don’t believe it conveys the message that I intended it to.

“I don’t believe that the Daily Campus should stop publishing articles or opinion pieces about sexual assault and rape. I feel it is an important topic to discuss on college campuses and believe that students should continue to be allowed the opportunity to write about it.

“Although the message that I was trying to send was overshadowed by a few parts of my piece that worded poorly, I am glad that this has sparked discussion about sexual assaults and rapes on college campuses and hope that in some way it can help somebody,” said Wiley.

Click here to read the original op-ed published in the Daily Campus.

Click here to link to the Daily Campus response to the controversy.

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