The message was clear to men and women: Respect yourself and respect one another in order to stop campus sexual assault. Students testified about the horrors of sexual assault and the power of surviving.
“It started by verbally putting me down, and completely changed who I was. He began to physically abuse me, but then he’d bring me roses. And then he raped me,” said one Rutgers University student.
“In the past few years, if I’ve learned anything about what it means to be a survivor, I know that it takes a whole damn lot of courage, whether a survivor tells a friend, a counselor or the police, or the world, it takes courage,” said another Rutgers University student.
The message, ‘It’s On Us,’ has been reverberating around college campuses since 2014 after a White House initiative to get men and women talking about the issue. On the Rutgers campus Thursday, where former Vice President Joe Biden was the guest speaker, the message seems to have caught on.
“When I hear guys talking about women in a demeaning way, my philosophy is always to think about that girl that you were just talking about, how it would be if that was your mother, your daughter, your sister or cousin,” said Rutgers University student Piney Arp.
“For women, it’s important to know that they don’t deserve to be treated in such a way and it’s important that people, especially influential figures like Joe Biden, are standing up against such a big problem in society,” said Shweta Chandekar, Rutgers University student.
“Sexual assault is not about sex, it’s about power. It’s about the abuse of power and it’s about the deeply embedded attitudes in our culture that for a thousand years have shamed the victims and allowed the perpetrators to escape the consequences of their actions,” said Biden.
To be sure, the vast majority of the audience were of like minds. But, there is still a feeling that in these days of movie moguls run amok and political leaders who engage in locker room talk when they think no one is listening, that it’s important to keep repeating the message.
“How can young men grow up to respect young women when the chief executive of the United States is on tape speaking ‘locker room talk’? Well, that’s not locker room talk, that is much worse. You’re talking about the president of the United States,” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg.
The Rutgers University marching band played on, students celebrated Joe’s visit and then went on their way, on to a Thursday night on campus, where the ‘It’s On Us’ message will be tested — by the freedom of campus life, by judgments impaired and boundaries challenged. But, there is hope that somewhere in this crowd, at least one person, has been reached.