The young woman whose experience of college sexual assault was recounted in a controversial column written by George Will — a piece that sparked massive outrage and led at least one newspaper to drop Will’s byline — is now telling her side of the story. And Lisa Sendrow has a few things to explain to the Washington Post columnist about rape culture.
In order to make the argument that college students are falsely reporting rape after engaging in consensual sex, Will retold the story of Sendrow’s assault, which occurred while she was a student at Swarthmore College. In his column, he implied that her experience didn’t necessarily “count” as rape because Sendrow had previous sexual experience with her attacker, didn’t resist strongly enough, and didn’t immediately report the incident.
In an interview that aired on CNN on Wednesday, Sendrow said that she was “outraged” to read Will’s syndicated column “dismissing not only my claims, but essentially using that as a way to dismiss all sexual assault claims.” When the CNN anchor asked what needs to change to ensure that people like George Will don’t downplay the issue of sexual assault, Sendrow made the case for dismantling society’s victim-blaming approach to rape survivors:
SENDROW: Rape culture needs to change. There’s this one idea that always comes to mind, that people need to avoid being sexually assaulted. But really, the conversation needs to turn to how we can teach people not to sexually assault. If you’re saying no, you mean no. If you’re not saying yes, you don’t mean yes. I don’t understand why that’s so hard for people to conceive, or why it’s so hard to understand that sexual assault doesn’t need to be in a back alley where you’re raped by some sort of stranger. Sexual assault can happen to anybody, it can happen at any point. It can happen by friends, family members, boyfriends, girlfriends — anybody can sexually assault or be sexually assaulted. The way that [George Will] framed it made it seem like it’s only women who are crying and don’t have any reason to be crying. That’s not the way it is.
Watch it, courtesy of Media Matters:
Although Will did not print Sendrow’s name, her personal experience was nonetheless “forced into the conversation” after he chose to feature it in his nationally syndicated column. She told CNN that the Washington Post writer did not attempt to contact her either before or after it was published.
Earlier this week, in a separate interview with Media Matters, Sendrow also responded to Will’s assertion that the focus on campus sexual assault is ensuring that rape victims enjoy a “coveted status,” which was one of the most controversial aspects of his recent column. She pointed out she didn’t gain a special position on campus after becoming the victim of assault, and actually became the subject of violent rape and death threats after her story was made public.
“It did not help my grades, it did not help my social status. I lost a lot of friends… No one tells you, ‘oh you’re a survivor, let me give you a free lunch.’ No one gives a shit about you. What benefit could we possibly get?” she said. “Sometimes I feel like I can’t have a real relationship because someone might touch me in the wrong way.”
Since the column was first published, thousands of people have called on the Washington Post to fire George Will. However, the paper has continued to stand by him, maintaining that opinion pieces are supposed to inspire debate. Will himself has defended the arguments put forth in his article, saying that he wouldn’t take back a single word and people on the internet are simply overreacting.