GU, SFS-Q Exchange Perspectives on Sexual Assault
Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 03:03
Students, faculty and staff from Georgetown and the School of Foreign Service in Qatar shared perspectives on sexual assault as a human rights issue in a discussion held via webcam between the campuses’ respective Women’s Centers Monday.
The conversation provided an opportunity for discussion of sexual assault in an international context and capitalized on Georgetown’s cyber-learning and international initiatives.
Participants discussed how violence against women has become a norm, the ways in which women are dehumanized and how new definitions of rape could better support violence victims.
Recent cases of sexual assault in Steubenville, Ohio, Delhi, India, and Morocco provided real-world applications to the theoretical discourse often surrounding human rights issues.
“We need to relate the discourse of human rights to our daily experiences and not just treat it as this cosmopolitan idea that’s out there,” Marie-Sophie Guntram (COL ’13) said. “We need to practicalize it and infuse our media language with this kind of new way of socializing the next generations and redefine the way we look at discourse ethic as a way of treating one another.”
The discussion also focused on laws that have historically protected perpetrators of violence.
SFS-Qatar history professor Amira Sonbol introduced the topic of organized harassment of women and the role states have taken in silencing women.
Morgan McDaniel (SFS ’13) responded to this topic by discussing cases in which women have been pressured to remain silent when bringing charges against athletes or other prominent members of society.
“When I’m talking to friends of mine — women — about the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses, within five minutes the conversation shifts to talk about the ‘poor men,’” McDaniel said. “We spend so little time talking about the actual experiences of the women themselves who were sexually assaulted. I think maybe to some degree that’s a result of discomfort in thinking about this as something that is very real.”
SFS-Qatar Associate Dean of Student Affairs Brendan Hill agreed.
“There doesn’t seem to be a respect for female personhood,” Hill said.
Hill added that students studying at the Qatar campus face difficulty in the event of sexual assault.
“It’s very hard to determine what the legal status of women is in this culture,” Hill said. “What bothers me in this place is not so much the legislation or the laws but the rumors about the law. There are women who feel disempowered because they feel they have no legal standing.”
The dialogue ended with a discussion about sexual assault as a result of violence.
“If we are going to have moral discourse about this, it’s going to have to be a moral discourse against violence in general,” Sonbol said. “The more vulnerable are more susceptible to excessive violence.”
Hill identified a root cause behind sexual assault.
“Assault is always going to be a problem until we recognize that women are not objects, that women are subjects that are fully invested with human rights,” Hill said.