Amber Phillips: Inexcusable contact should not be defended

The music blares as bodies press together vaguely out of tune with the beat. Your voice cracks when you shout to your friend a couple bodies over, asking if they want to step out for a second. With a little bit of wiggling you both edge your way to the stairs. Halfway there and there’s someone touching you. No, this is not an accident. This is no stray hand as you brush by. This is a fully intentional and uncalled for groping. By the time the incident registers, in the seconds it takes you to turn around, he’s already walked away. You’ve never seen him before.

So what? Does it matter? Who cares? It was just a hand, and after all, you’re the girl who chose to go out. Maybe it was just a dumb bet for him or even an unconscious or intoxicated habit. Or maybe their dumb hand just isn’t okay.

Telling yourself it doesn’t matter and minimizing events allows the issue to grow and continue occurring. There is no sugar coating; unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature is sexual harassment. A rule of thumb for men: if it’s not somewhere you’d place your hand on a sibling or friend, it’s not okay. Sexual harassment often starts as relatively minor incident, but brushing it off as inconsequential allows it to escalate.

Every offense matters, because every woman matters. The culture of catcalling, ass-grabbing and dirty dancing creates a mental dynamic in females that their value stems from their appearance and body. It enforces the idea that to get a boy’s attention, interest and affection they need to use their sexuality. It instigates self-esteem issues. Whistling while she walks by or making a pass as you walk by compels her to infer she isn’t worth an actual conversation, that she isn’t good enough for anything more.

On a more serious scale, this behavior and acceptance of it perpetuates rape culture. It reinforces the media portrayal of women as a prize, property or sex object. Downplaying stereotypically harmless incidents says there isn’t anything wrong with a catcall or uninvited sexual hand placement, but in reality this attitude increases the male sense of entitlement to the female body. It encourages acceptance of behavior that females haven’t consented to. It can be the initiator in a chain reaction with traumatizing products: sexual violation and violence.

Sexual harassment and assault affects both men and women, but it is not a genderless issue. Statistically women, particularly college-aged, are more at risk. Approximately 91 percent of sexual assault or rape victims are female. It’s an unfortunate fact that going out, to a party, bar or club with or without alcohol does put women more at risk for sexual harassment, assault or rape, but the presence of alcohol cannot be used as an excuse nor justification for inexcusable behavior.

In any social situation, the fear of wrongly perceived intentions and being taken advantage of negatively impacts the way a female carries herself. Too often males consider comments and actions of a sexual nature as casual, expecting not to be confronted. This stance rolls over with females, who then don’t speak up or confront the guy in question. Unwanted contact is almost frequent enough to be considered normal, discouraging friendliness towards any male. With a mentality that being friendly increases the likelihood of undesirable advances, it’s often preferred to come off as cold.

With both males and females continually guilty of having a nonchalant attitude towards inappropriate sexual behavior, who is responsible? Ultimately it is society as a whole at fault. Our society supports a culture where women are objectified, by both men and other women.

Breaking down the building blocks of society to the family unit, parents are responsible, for they raise each up and coming generation. Responsibility falls to parents who cling to more old-fashioned beliefs and don’t teach their sons basic respect for women. Blame befalls those who fail to iterate to their boys that sex is not a prize nor a given. It goes to those who don’t assure their daughters that their body and appearance are the least important aspects of who they are. With little-to-no education on the subject occurring in school until the college level, it is the parent’s responsibility to instill during the developmental years the fundamental values, boundaries and guidelines to prevent this kind of behavior.

Thankfully in 2015, universities across the country are aware of the issue and are making an attempt to educate their students, even if it is a little late in the game. Almost every campus has a women’s center to raise awareness about respect, sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. Women’s centers can provide counseling, advice and deterrent strategies. Fraternities and Greek Life officiates can implement rules for the brothers to follow, both in and out of the party scene. They can be more cautious when they’re the ones throwing the party.

However it’s ultimately an individual responsibility and recognition that will implement change. It’s every individual’s decision to care, to not be apathetic towards the issue. For males, it’s the conscious acceptance that they are entitled to nothing. It’s the admittance that females are not objects. It’s the recognition that consent isn’t cool; it’s required. It’s the little voice in the back of their head asking if their mother would approve of their actions.

For females, it’s putting their foot down. It’s saying that the provocative comments, drifting hands and over sexualized dancing are not the norm. Women are the population proportion suffering the most from this issue. They should stick together for support, instead of shaming each other.

It’s not making excuses like blaming the alcohol or calling it an accident. It’s not using the argument that it could have been worse as justification. It’s both genders not ever saying that sexual harassment or assault is okay, because it never is.

Amber Phillips is a second-year student.