All week I have heard friendly warnings, “don’t walk alone,” “don’t be out by yourself at night,” and as I find myself choosing to postpone things until the morning, worried that I’ve stayed too late at a coffee shop, or relying on my friends for a ride at night when I am only blocks away from home, I am reminded that safety is a privilege, a privilege that women disproportionately do not have the opportunity to enjoy in our society.
To date, there have been nine confirmed assaults against women, all in the Fort Collins area. All assaults have remained off-campus, and as of now they are believed to be perpetrated by the same man. The first was reported in September, with the following four reported between late September and early October. A sixth was reported north of Fort Collins on Colorado Highway 1, and numbers seven and eight occurred a mere 20 minutes apart on the night of October 24th. Police were adamant that the last two were not sexual assaults.
As a woman, I have been warned since childhood about the dangers of being out by myself (especially at night) and taught to be weary of men’s intentions, even in casual social settings. While some may say that this fear is an overreaction, it is a necessity for many women in this country and around the world (one in four women find themselves victims of domestic violence, and one American woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes). Violence against women continues to be a tragic reality, but it doesn’t have to be.
On an institutional level, we look to rape culture as one of the reasons behind how and why violence against women persists at such a disproportionate rate. Rape culture explains that while we do not outwardly promote rape as a society, implicitly we condone it by ignoring, normalizing and/or trivializing sexual assault, rape and general violence against women. In order to prevent such instances as the Fort Collins attacker on a societal level, we must learn to stop participating in rape culture and recognize, as Walter Moseley from The National put it, that “a violent act is not a tragic event done by a group of crazies. Violence functions in our society as ‘a means of securing power.'”
In the meantime, while our community continues to suffer from attacks that have affected our friends and family, we can employ some of the techniques that Moseley proposes. First, continue to lobby our community and do not “passively accept female degradation.” The Fort Collins police have been hard at work following dozens of leads, and we want to keep them on it; keep reporting and provide the police with any relevant information. Secondly, don’t laugh at rape or violence against women. This trivializes violence and promotes the idea that such behavior is acceptable. You never know when you’re in the presence of a perpetrator, and therefore who exactly you are condoning violence to.
Finally, we are more powerful as a community than one man choosing to inflict terror. While the Fort Collins police look for this man, it is important to take care of each other, to take safety seriously, and to publicly denounce support of this behavior, not just because it is scary, but because it is simply unacceptable. Men and women of Fort Collins need to stand together to protect and empower the women in our community, as well as take time to reflect on how the disease of violent masculinity is continually allowed to plague our community and country at large.
Collegian Columnist Caroline King can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter by @cgking7.