Viewpoint: Silence means nothing will ever change

The story of the UConn student who was told she should have kept her mouth shut instead of reporting abuse has been making its rounds on the Internet since last week. Over the weekend, another story cropped up reporting that a man would serve zero jail time for sexually assaulting his neighbor’s daughter several times when she was a young teenager.

These types of stories appear almost daily, it seems, and almost always with the same outcome. The offender serves little to no jail time after being pitied and lamented over about how his or her life is now ruined because the victim dared to find the courage to speak up. The victim is shamed and ostracized, sometimes to the point of suicide, after being ridiculed and blamed for the whole ordeal, if he or she is even believed in the first place.

It’s a vicious, continuous cycle, and each time, it reinforces the same messages: Women, you are not worth as much as men. Men, you are always the perpetrators, never the victims. Victims, it is all your fault, never the fault of the offender. Offenders, you can get away with it with minimal consequences (usually if you’re white and male, but that’s another topic for another time), so do what you want.

These apparently varying messages all relate back to basic gender-role mindsets that society has ingrained into the consciousness of its people. In other words, the stuff we see, read, hear and talk about has programmed us to think like this without many of us realizing it. However, this mindset is damaging. The same stories told on the news every week show that society is failing us by trying to keep us in that mindset.

Sexual abuse and harassment is often marginalized and is joked about on a daily basis in everywhere from grade schools to the workplace. It’s almost always seen as just something boys do, a compliment that women should be grateful for. However, sexual assault and harassment are never OK. They are never funny, and they are never acceptable at any age or in any situation. They trivialize the victims. They make them less than human. No one, no matter what society says, wants to be made so uncomfortable that they don’t feel safe living their lives, that they would rather kill themselves than live another day.

Women, you are worth just as much as any man. You should never feel pressured to make someone happy at the cost of your own happiness and comfort. You should never be made to feel like another person’s independent choices are your fault. And you should never feel like you can’t speak up.

Men, you can be the victims, too. It happens. And when it does, it doesn’t make you less of a person. But just as easily, you can be an offender. Society has failed you in telling you that real men are strong and dominant, the tough guys. And if you aren’t a tough guy, then if you’re a nice guy, you deserve a girl anyway. No one owes anything to anyone for being nice. And unless a women says yes, the answer is always no.

Victims, it is never your fault. It does not make you worth less. You didn’t ask for it because you were wearing clothes. You didn’t deserve it because you were drinking. Society has failed you because it would rather teach victims how not to be assaulted instead of teaching offenders not to assault.

Offenders — you are not the victim. It is your choice. And therefore, the fault will always lie with you, no matter what the courts and public say.

No one should ever feel pressured to say nothing. Silence means nothing will ever change.