It's hard to go anywhere without encountering some sort of celebrity gossip. Most of it is pretty frivolous; the sun will still rise and set, regardless of whether Brangelina and Jennifer Aniston get into another spat tomorrow.
Yet every once in a while, the gossip tidbit of the day is a little more sobering — something with real relevance that crosses over into the mainstream media. On Sept. 28, the celebrated Polish film director Roman Polanski was extradited in Switzerland for fleeing the United States in 1971 on the eve of a sentencing hearing.
The crime? Unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl, who repeatedly said "no" as Polanski violated her.
The facts of the case are clear-cut; Polanski himself does not deny them. But many people, celebrities and pundits alike, took it upon themselves to exonerate the director. They used arguments that varied from stating that as a Holocaust survivor, Polanski had already suffered enough (Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post) to describing the crime as not "rape-rape," but "something else" (Whoopie Goldberg on the View).
I'm not going to use this column to dissect the issue of whether Polanski should be retried and imprisoned; countless others have written about and debated this issue in a much more eloquent manner than I possibly could. What I will say is that the passage of time does not and should not change the facts involved in any legal case, and that this issue should be discussed much more seriously than it has been.
At Brown, we're lucky enough to be in an environment with many forums to talk openly about sex and relationships. We have MSex and FemSex; every RPL has condoms available on his or her door. Every year, Alexis Saccoman '04 gives his famous talk about the seven stages of sexual desire. And of course, we have SexPowerGod, the party that's made us the object of Bill O'Reilly's ire.
Unfortunately, all of these things a utopia do not make. While Brown students are educated and talented, that doesn't mean that relationship abuse and sexual assault don't happen here. It's important that we acknowledge that fact and take active steps to prevent it.
Therefore, in the wake of what seems to be international amnesia regarding the basic facts of sexual assault, I'd like to posit some reminders about the nature of this crime, as well as that of relationship abuse.
Abuse or assault can happen to anyone, regardless of age, size, gender, sexual orientation, class, education level, race or any other factor. Both men and women, whether they identify as straight, gay, bisexual or pansexual, can be abusers and abusees.
Abuse isn't just physical. If you or someone you know is in a relationship with someone who says things that make you feel worthless, threatens to hurt you physically or tries to prevent you from spending time with other friends, seek help.
No one deserves to be abused or assaulted. It doesn't matter how suggestive someone's outfit or dance moves are, or if he or she has a reputation of being a slut; nobody deserves the physical, psychological and emotional repercussions of abuse.
False accusations of rape happen. But that doesn't mean every report of assault or abuse should be treated as if it were false; rather, each instance should be investigated as carefully and confidentially as possible. There's still a very strong cultural stigma against rape, abuse and assault —hearing an official or friend not take a claim seriously could make a victim feel that the abuse was his or her fault.
Abuse, assault and rape are not just "feminist issues" — they're issues that concern everyone. Chances are you know someone who has survived one of these situations. In one survey, 20 percent of college women and 4 percent of college men answered yes to the question, "In your lifetime, have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?"
These are just the statistics for sexual assault reports; they don't include reports of verbal or non-sexual physical abuse in intimate relationships, and most importantly, they don't recount non-recorded instances of these tragedies. Sexual assault and relationship abuse are much more common than we think, whether we want to think about it or not.
The people you saw running a condom water balloon toss on the Main Green on Sept. 24 are right: consensual sex IS hot. A physical encounter in which the participants are comfortable and communicative is more likely to be enjoyable for all involved. Whether you're in a long-term relationship or just having a one-time fling, make sure you trust your partner. Not only will you be safe, but you'll have more fun!
That's all. Look out for yourself and your friends, and if you need help, get help. Just because US Magazine doesn't know how to talk about these sticky issues doesn't mean that it's okay for us Brown students to avoid them. We're too smart not to do this the right way.
Adrienne Langlois '10 is a History and Latin American Studies concentrator from Asheville, NC.