On Sunday, April 6, students launched a new website titled Silence is Violence (silence-is-violence.org), which features both testimonials of survivors of sexual assault and student-submitted quotes of overheard conversations on campus that they found triggering or offensive. The site was created by Mari Jarris ’14, Chloe Murtagh ’15, John Nelson ’16, and Lynn Ma ’16.
“A lot of what we were looking at when we were starting this website was what other schools were doing,” Jarris said. “So that’s where we got this idea…. [It was] a combination of what other people are doing and what we thought the need was at Wesleyan. Obviously a top priority is that this supports survivors, and that is a main intention of the website: to not only raise broader awareness but to be a place where survivors can talk about this safely and hear other people’s stories.”
Murtagh spoke to the importance of the quote submission feature. She feels that triggering comments are a prevalent issue that remains relatively unaddressed on campus.
“We thought that one…important piece of [a culture of sexual assault] is this idea of more subtle comments that people experience…that don’t explicitly condone sexual assault but work to normalize sexual
assault, to objectify women, [and] to devalue consent, and this happens all the time,” Murtagh said. “They also help paint a more clear picture of what sexual assault and rape culture is at this school…. It really does boil down to these comments that make people feel really uncomfortable and make others think it’s really O.K. to treat people this way.”
For example, one of the quotes submitted to the website was allegedly said by a panelist in a sexual assault hearing, and reads, “What were you expecting from the night when you invited him home?”
The purpose of the quotes is to make students think about the words they use and hear regarding sexual violence and rape culture.
“I think the intensity of the testimonials and quotes on the website is very powerful,” said Sara Guernsey ’15. “The website definitely makes someone think twice about words being said around campus.”
Nelson explained that the name of the website references language that subtly contributes to rape culture on campus.
“The name, Silence is Violence, is not meant to…target survivors who won’t report,” Nelson said. “It’s to target the language that specifically discourages them from reporting…. They’re not all to this effect, but a lot of the quotes we have are discouraging survivors from reporting because their attacker already feels guilty or they don’t have a legitimate claim. And we’re really targeting that language, not the reporters.”
The organizers of the website also distributed signs with the words “Silence Is Violence” on them, which they encourage students to hang in their windows. Ayala Mansky ’14, who plans to start a group at the University to defend the rights of fraternities to provide single-sex housing in light of a petition that recommends that Greek organizations become coed, spoke about the benefits and pitfalls of the website and of these signs.
“I think it’s really important for survivors of sexual assault to have an outlet, and an anonymous forum is definitely a place where survivors can come without fear of being ostracized and what have you,” Mansky wrote in an email to The Argus. “However, I’m definitely wary of the signs because I’ve spoken to a lot of people who find them triggering and to be a constant reminder rather than helpful in any way.”
Jarris responded to concerns about the campaign being triggering for survivors of sexual assault.
“The last thing we want to do is create an environment in which survivors feel uncomfortable,” she wrote in an email to The Argus. “The website is intended to be a resource for survivors to share their experiences and have their voices validated, because there are few public spaces that allow for that now. We will continue to take precautions and seek feedback on how to do so in a more effective manner, while still creating a space for survivors to share their stories and spreading awareness of sexual assault and rape culture on our campus.”
The website also comes with a trigger warning, stating that the content is explicit and might be triggering.
Ma addressed the relationship between sexual assault and fraternities on campus, a topic that has been much discussed on campus in recent weeks.
“I am hoping more people will show solidarity for the cause and…even people…when they’re just in passing talking about the issue, they keep straying from the topic of sexual assault and if it comes up, saying, ‘Oh, there are people just wanting to get rid of frats and that’s not what this is really about,’” Ma said. “It’s not just about making frats these demon figures, and I really hope people can focus on the issue of sexual assault. I think we will feel a lot more solidarity coming from the campus.”
Murtagh hopes that if the website does not inspire people to act against sexual violence, it will at least cause them to be more conscious of their language sexual assault.
“If nothing else, [hopefully people will be] reflecting on their language, their behavior, their conceptions of sexual assault and of consent and how they respond when they hear these kind of comments from friends and peers,” Murtagh said.