• Seeing Bullsh*t, Calling Bullsh*t: An Open Letter to University of Virginia Chief of Police, Michael Gibson and the email sent to ALL of UVA RE: Women and Assault (PHOTOS)

    A Little Background First:
    On April 17, 2015, a campus-wide email was dispersed to all the members of the UVA community regarding a reported sexual assault on/around Grounds recently.  It was one in a series of emails notifying all students, faculty and staff of reported violence again women via Just Report It.  Here is a screen shot of the form emails sent to the entire UVA community:

    April 3, 2015

     April 17, 2015

    These and other emails from UVA Police Chief are available to read on the UVA Police website:  http://www.virginia.edu/uvapolice/safety.html#safety_tips

    The emails include the following suggestions to help prevent occurrences of assault to women or what to do in the event one is assaulted:

    • The most common type of sexual assault occurs between individuals known to one another, including an acquaintance or in the context of a current or prior dating or domestic relationship.
    • Alcohol and drugs are often used to create vulnerability to sexual assault. Studies of sexual assault incidents show a high correlation between non-stranger sexual assault and drug/alcohol usage. Be alert to people pressuring you or others to use alcohol or other drugs.
    • If you engage in online dating, think about how to safely meet and interact with new people. Take your time to get to know someone before sharing your full identity and personal information.
    • If you are meeting someone new for the first time, let your friends or family know where you are going and when you will be home. Meet in a public place with lots of people around. Use your own transportation to get to and from the date. Arrange to contact a friend when the date is over.
    • Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy or sense something is wrong, do what you can to get out of that situation or call for assistance.
    • Use and encourage others to have a companion or a safe means of getting home, i.e., a trusted friend, taxi, or Safe Ride if available.
    Initially pleased at the notion of the UVA Police department being proactive and transparent in the safety and well being of the citizens of the UVA community, I was quickly disappointed when I realized the email was directed solely at women, with "suggestions" as to how we should conduct ourselves to prevent occurrences of assault against ourselves! 
    Seeing Bullshit. 
    Calling Bullshit. 
    Needless to say...no...NEEDED to say...and so I did.

    This is my response and open letter to Chief Michael Gibson:

    Dear Chief Gibson,

    Thank you...but no thank.  

    As long as you are making "suggestions" as to what women should do and should not do in order to prevent assault, I would like to insist you "suggest" to men to NOT assault women?! 

    While I can appreciate your effort to communicate "safety" to the UVA community, your email is condescending and insulting...and should be directed to men as well.  What do I mean, "directed to men"? I mean, if the UVA police continue with emails, send a message that addresses the problem and places the RESPONSIBILITY OF PREVENTION on the men as well.  Each of your "suggestions" aren't about preventing assault. They were directed at women, micromanaging a woman's choices in life as if ANY of those suggestions are realistic or reasonable.  Are you seriously telling women HOW to date or how to behave on a date? Where's the "suggestion" explaining what men should do or how they should behave on a date?!  You even say that among many of those assaulted, it is done at the hands of someone we know! Do you suggest that a woman should hold suspect every man we know because we never know when we may encounter that "predator friend or relative"?!   How about YOU address the "predator friend"?! How about you side with US and send a message to the "predator friends" to stop assaulting women! Oh...and "predator friend" is an oxymoron.

    You, Chief Gibson...CHIEF...a title of honor and leadership...YOU are the leader of law enforcement at the University of Virginia. This "passive" email does nothing to deter the crimes from happening. Because you only address women in your email, you are admitting there is a presence for women to fear at the University of Virginia.  We must all accept that there are predators at UVA, but the position of your law enforcement correspondence is "women, here's what YOU need to do". 

     A woman can do ALL the things you "suggest" in your email but it will make no difference because you do not address the men who commit these horrific acts. Your message of prevention isn't to THEM. There is no mention of the legal consequences of committing an assault, which SHOULD be communicated to men at this age. Here's YOUR opportunity to communicate a "zero-tolerance" policy against those who commit assault in the UVA community, but instead, you choose to communicate the importance of "getting to know someone you meet online before giving them personal details about yourself"...all while stating most assaults take place by someone they know! WHICH IS IT?! 

    Because I am a solution oriented person, allow me to "suggest" a few amendments to you.  I propose that when you send out these messages to the ENTIRE UVA community, you ADDRESS the ENTIRE UVA community.  GROWN WOMEN don't need your canned email with "tips"on how to behave on a date. Clearly, our male counterpart needs YOU to tell them how NOT to be a predator!

    Tell the "gentlemen" of the University of Virginia the following:

    • Do not assume "YES".  Ever.  In fact, assume "NO". Period.
    • If you hear "No." or "No!" or NO!" or any variation of "stop", "don't", "I do not want" or "NO", DO NOT PROCEED!
    • She will never "owe" you sex. Under no circumstances will violence against a woman serve as payment or reimbursement for anything you do or buy.
    • Rape, and other forms of assault, are acts of violence and acts of terror. Unless you wish to be considered a terrorist, do not assault or bring terror to any woman.
    • An overwhelming percentage of women are assaulted by someone they know...a friend or relative. So ask yourself, what kind of friend ARE you if you willingly terrorize your loved ones with assault? 

    Finally, I would like to submit the idea that the UVA police department go to each fraternity house as well as address all the men of University of Virginia at the beginning of the fall 2015 semester and state out loud and for clarity: we are conducting an experiment. For one year...one entire year...we are employing a "zero-tolerence" policy against assault. For one year...one entire year...we will give the benefit of truth to women and the assailant will be dismissed, no questions asked. Women will no longer be saddled with the burden of proof that an assault took place. And to the men who "fear" that a woman would then have the ability to falsely accuse them, tell them what women have heard since the beginning of time, "You should be careful to avoid putting yourself in a position to be violated." 

    In summary....your email needs to be rewritten and your policy reworked.

    Please and Thank You.
    Terésa Dowell-Vest
    UVA faculty/visiting scholar
    Charlottesville native
    Resident of The District of Columbia


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