Photo by Richard Potts

The University of Wisconsin community has been badly shaken by the news about Alec Cook, who made national headlines for his alleged serial sexual assaults on women.

After twenty years of working in the areas of sexual assault and violence against women and children, Erin Thornley-Parisi, the executive director of the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, was not surprised by the story.

As details continued to emerge about this specific case, I spoke with Thornley-Parisi by phone to discuss the news about Cook and the broader issue of sexual assault on campus.

Q: Have you seen anything like these allegations of stalking and serial, planned assaults before?

Thornley-Parisi: This is actually a fairly common M.O. for people who are sexually assaulting others. To stalk victims and to have a kind of deliberate methodology to get victims into the place that they are most vulnerable to sexual assault, that happens on a really regular basis.

Q: How do you see this situation affecting the campus?

On top of a lot of work that the campus has been doing to recover from its Title IX violations, [university administrators] have been addressing sexual assault. And I think that—I hope and assume—there will be enough support for the victims based on that prevention work. The Rape Crisis Center is a community-based organization, but we serve students. We serve every student who goes for a rape exam. There has also been a little more effort put into public awareness, and I am hoping that there will be less victim-blaming because of this.

Q: This occurred on a college campus, but do you think that this situation has had broader implications for women elsewhere?

Thornley-Parisi: Yes. I'm hoping it will have implications for women and men.

This is layered on top of two other very visible allegations of sexual assault with multiple victims—the Bill Cosby case and the Donald Trump case. Because there has been so much attention—a lot on social media, and students live on social media—I think that they're seeing a trend that when one woman comes forward, other women feel safety in numbers and they will come forward.

Women have been trained to accept all but the most violent and egregious sexual assault and even with that it almost always has to involve another crime, such as strangulation or battery or kidnapping, in order for women to feel that they will be supported coming forward and talking about the sexual assault. And that is conditioning. Women have been conditioned. From birth we are conditioned to feel that sexual assault is inevitable and normal unless we are hurt in another way other than just the rape itself.

Alec Cook is a representative of a rape culture. I know that that term is already losing some impact because people have used it a lot. But it is the culture in which women are raised and that we have to navigate throughout our lives.

On college campuses, women are not afforded the luxury of freedom the way men are.  When women on campus are trying to study and trying to spread their wings and achieve adulthood, they are constantly hampered by the threat of sexual violence. It should not be normal for us to have to worry about being sexually assaulted all the time.

We are so quick to judge other countries that have what we think of as antiquated,  barbaric laws around women covering themselves up, dictating how women dress, dictating a prohibition on drinking alcohol, perhaps a curfew. These are things that are very common and that women are punished for in other countries because they are violating the law. But in America, we have the same rules, we just don't have them as laws. If a woman dresses the wrong way, she is subject to being sexually assaulted and then accused for having a role in that for the way she dressed. If a man drinks it's a defense that he couldn't stop himself from sexually assaulting, but if a woman drinks she deserves to be sexually assaulted. And if we are out late, if we are out without a man—all of those are things women in our country are punished for. They are just the unwritten rules. That might be hard for people to grasp, but we’d better start grasping it soon.

Ashley Maag is editorial intern with The Progressive.

 

 

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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