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Letters to the Editor: 6-4-2015

ONLY ONE OF MANY

I am writing to applaud Camilla Mortensen’s as always thorough, informed and situated story May 28 about sexual assault survivors and the UO. The article demonstrates how sadly typical it is for something truly terrible to happen before anything is done that could prevent future tragedies. The UO, caught between worries about perceptions of prospective students, their parents and, above everyone else, donors, hoped this would just go away. It did not. 

In this case, as in so many others, it isn’t just bad news — it is real human suffering that gets silenced and ultimately lost in policies, legal review and institutional betrayal of those who live and work at the UO (see Jennifer Freyd’s exceptional work on this). Laura Hanson is bold and brave, but sadly only one of the many victims of these kinds of crimes and concealments at this and other college campuses. 

While the UO is busily adding staff, these problems persist. Needed is a real effort to reveal how our culture teaches and privileges aggression in men (an emphasis on always winning in sports doesn’t help), mass media that uses sex to sell everything and true, confidential support systems independent of the university.

Debra Merskin, Eugene

 

STORIES OF COURAGE

I would like to thank Camilla Mortensen for her cover story “Dragged Through the Mud” May 28. This is an informative article handled with grace and integrity. The courage it takes for Laura Hanson (and Brenda Tracy and other individuals who spoke out in the article) to go public with her experience and the treatment she received from the University of Oregon is immeasurable. 

This article, coupled with Jon Karakauer’s Missoula, should be required reading by students, administrators and parents of students at the UO as well as any other institute of higher learning. What happened in Missoula has been happening on university and college campuses all over the nation. This article is direct testimony of this fact. My hope is that this article is picked up by other news sources and gets wide distribution for its authenticity and its ongoing support of an issue that has, until just recently, been silenced. 

Thank you EW, Camilla and the survivors of sexual assault who are speaking out on this extreme violation, beginning with the sexual assault and ending with the institutional betrayal of the university. Accessing counseling records without consent or without a subpoena, really?

Betsy Pownall, Eugene

 

DISSERVICE TO SURVIVORS

As a mother and a survivor of sexual assault, ever since your May 28 issue hit the newsstands, I have avoided all public spaces where it is stocked, usually at ground level, perfect for tiny eyes to see. The cover may be provocative, but it is violent and perpetuates the tale of women as helpless victims. I understand the shock value in its imagery, but an article of this nature should be able to stand on its own merits because it is about basic rights and human dignity. When we sensationalize rape in this manner, we do a disservice to survivors and to the young people who are still learning what it means to be a woman. 

What my young daughters need to understand is that women are strong, capable and deserving of respect, and because they are young, words and images hold great power over them. They do not yet have the ability to filter out images like the one on your newest cover. The twisted irony is that in promoting women’s safety and equality in our community, you have put the youngest generation of women at risk of misunderstanding their worth and role in society. 

Eileen Chanti, Eugene

 

BE A GROWNUP

The problem with Laura Hanson’s experience [“Dragged Through the Mud” 5/28] is that she presents it too vaguely for the outsider to know what indeed did happen to her. For example, she says she asked the “rapist” if he had a condom. That does not strike me as something a victim would ask a rapist. Hanson did not “own” her rape. She was unsure what had happened to her. That attitude makes everyone else unsure too. 

What may have helped her cope was to realize early on — like, immediately, that she had been sexually assaulted, call the police at her first opportunity, get to a hospital, have a rape kit done and seen herself as someone who was a victim of a crime and needed to deal with it like the adult she is. It’s not enough to cry on your sorority sisters’ shoulders, whine and complain how someone did you wrong. You’ve got to handle the mess like the grownup you’re supposed to be, demand respect from the people you deal with and get justice for yourself. 

The university folks are not your mommy and daddy; they’re just trying to protect their ass. That’s it. You’re the adult, you were the victim of a crime, so do something about it — and don’t expect others to do it for you. The only person who cares about it is — you. 

S.L. Rose, Eugene

 

TARGETING HOMELESS

There is recent discussion of a public smoking ban initiative, both downtown and in the parks. It sounds great — on the surface. We’re all aware of adverse health effects of cigarettes and odor. I, too, know this well as a former smoker. But underneath the veneer of this “pro-health” campaign is an insidious form of classism, one that will disproportionately target the homeless community who are already at the mercy of our local police force. Meanwhile those with money can find refuge in many of our bars and establishments, or possibly in the comfort of their own homes and vehicles.

For the people on the streets, cigarettes are an appetite suppressant. Homeless people smoke because they’re self-medicating for hunger. Many even use them as a source of short-term stress relief, to have something as a respite from the reality they’re in. Compared to all the health risks they face, from hypothermia to malnutrition to being exposed as prey to assault, tobacco should be the least of our concerns, and giving the authorities another tool to oppress those who experience enough harassment — who are time and time again cited and arrested for outrageous policies — is a waste of taxpayer money and outright shameful. I like to think that if we truly care about the health of our community, we’d spend our time and money on keeping people from dying on the streets instead of writing more citations.

Councilor Mike Clark was recently quoted in The Register-Guard, stating, "When we talk about creating a smoke-free downtown, it's not to create a healthy downtown. It's to stop some from being offended, and I don't think that's the job of the City Council." I couldn't agree more.

Terra Williams, Eugene/Springfield

 

FACING TWO ASSAULTS

Is there a more incendiary issue on university campuses than student rape? For victims, effects are devastating. Adding to this misery is widespread failure of university administrators — nationwide — fairly and evenly to address it. Sadly, the UO now has its glaring example. It cynically mishandled the rape allegations of a woman attacked by a pack of athletes. Even worse, it kept or installed rules that seriously would intimidate others from coming forward. 

The athletic director, coach of the alleged perpetrators’ team, the university president and the subsequent interim president all grievously failed this young woman. Obviously, the crisis extends beyond this university, this group of personnel. But it is also institutional — and it is here we must demand change. Where are our political leaders? This is the time to demand significant reforms, not pledges and lip service. The time to act is now, before other young women are forced to endure not one but two assaults.

Jayme Vasconcellos, Eugene

 

TAKE UP ARMS

I have bad PTSD from experiences similar to Laura Hanson; from the assault, I almost lost my eyesight. It was years ago, but I need to join support with Hanson.

The police in that city did not investigate or try to find my attacker. They dumped it completely. I know what it’s like to have police detectives sneer and ignore you and get no police or legal support, and they lose the physical evidence.

I learned this the hard way: The police, the law, courts, UO and all responsible institutions don’t care or give a s--- about women or what happens to us. And as long as we women don’t organize together, arm ourselves and learn how to use handguns, Tasers, etc. and protect ourselves and each other, we will all keep being assaulted, raped and made victims of abuse and murder by men. We have to take control of our own protection or we will never be free of this abuse.

That is the only way we will ever be safe on college campuses or anywhere else, even in our homes. The only thing men respect and are deterred by is a genuine show of force, arms to back it up and skill to use them — and the warning that we won’t stand for being messed with, without severe consequences. 

We have to realize now that we are the only law and order we have. 

D. H. Bucher, Eugene

 

DECEPTIVE COVER IMAGE

I saw the cover May 28 and thought that this rape thing at UO is getting out of hand. Two guys go out and beat up a young woman and drag her through the mud, back to a dorm or some large building to rape her. Titillating, but I am very much interested in this subject and very interested in women’s rights.

So I read the feature article about it, and there was no story to go along with the cover. I don’t get it. Obviously, it’s a real photo. Did you stage this photo? Are you making this stuff up? The cases you describe in the article did not occur like the cover at all.

What’s going on here? Is Eugene Weekly trying to sensationalize the problems at the UO? Have any young women been beaten up and dragged to a hidden place to be raped? C’mon, what gives?

Jim Showker, Eugene

EDITOR’S NOTE: The photo illustration (as it was labeled on the cover) was intended to symbolize the frustrations and injustice that women often experience after reporting sexual assault. You can see more of Tracy Sydor’s photographs working with those who have experienced physical, mental or sexual abuse at jadedjane.com.