Guest Contributor: Kennedy Womack (’20)
The twilight hours of that night in 2016 are buried in oblivion, sunk out of my head, perhaps for self-protection. Fraternity boy coolness turns to shadiness at nightfall. His country boy accent is of the coal pitch blackness of the mines. I try to take flight, hasten away from my wails, make a quick getaway. I sink lower, shutting my eyes in this icebox. He is soulless, like a lone wolf committing acts of terrorism upon me in his below-zero bedroom His 240 pounds are unrelenting against my small body. He’s deaf to my screams. I tunnel inside myself, finding a crawlspace to hide. He finishes, “Don’t go out there and make a big deal out of this.” So, I am cast aside, and sent back outside into the cold night.
Before that night in college, I was hardened to the truth of sexual assault, unaware of the feelings of a victim in the aftermath of attack. But, when it happened to me, everything changed. The pain in my heart became my motivation. I came from a small town in Kentucky where people said I was “that girl.” They would gawk at me on the sidewalk, and whisper innuendo in hushed tones. On a college campus, “my scandal” followed me. According to the Justice Department, about 20 percent of us were sexually assaulted in college. I refuse to be received as rubbish and will not be typecast as the victim.
Law school represents my free will to become an advocate for those like me who survived sexual assault. I shall champion her and remain in her corner as she endures therapy and rehashes her pain in a courtroom. The past year-and-a-half helped me rediscover myself, forced to salvage my strength and neutralize the pain. In this reconstruction, I latched onto my service mission to legally aid sexual assault victims. After that horrible night, I felt inspired to never let anyone feel left out in the cold like I was that night. I wanted to make a difference and give victims a voice, while making sure they are given the help they need.
The #MeToo campaign aided my journey, as well. What started as a form of activism on social media grew to a full-blown movement. Survivors of sexual assault and harassment shared their solidarity with other victims by posting #MeToo on social media. Now, those who felt alone or shunned feel empowered and strengthened. The goal was to show the magnitude of rape culture. This helped me realize that I was not alone. I felt a sense of power in being able to take on this harsh world and make the change we need.
#MeToo is only the beginning. There is a monumental amount of work to be done to conquer rape culture and end it for good, but if members of society stand together, and take the needed steps, it can be accomplished. To start, we must educate and encourage a change of public perception about sexual assault. Instead of victim-shaming, we need to put the blame where it is deserved: the perpetrator. Stop asking girls what they were wearing that night or if they were drinking when the assault occurred, and start asking them if they are okay and what help they need. Secondly, we need to encourage appropriate bystander intervention. The It’s On Us campaign is a great resource in educating and lobbying young people to step up and do the right thing if they see an assault happening. Third, we should require all college students to participate in rape prevention courses like Haven to learn how to handle sexual assault on campus. According to Foubert, Godin, and Tatum, courses like these are extremely effective in teaching students how to address rape crisis on campus. Finally, we must hold our political leaders and public figures accountable for their decisions and actions regarding this issue. If we do not hold each individual, no matter who they are, to the same standard, we will never truly overcome this epidemic of crime.
Kennedy Womack is a 1L at University of Cincinnati College of Law from Ashland, KY. She attended Morehead State University in Morehead, KY, and graduated summa cum laude in May 2017 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in Government and Philosophy. She aspires to work in criminal and/or international law, specializing in victims’ rights and human rights.