US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Sexual assault: Never the victim's fault

By Caitlyn Schmid | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

A University of Arizona student, known for his frequent sermons around campus, took another opportunity to voice his opinions last Tuesday. Dean Saxton, a junior, stood on campus and held a sign that read, “You deserve rape.”

His philosophy? Women who dress provocatively are to blame for the crimes of a rapist.

“I think that girls that dress and act [provocatively],” Saxton told The Arizona Daily Wildcat, the student run newspaper at UA, “they should realize that they do have partial responsibility, because I believe that they’re pretty much asking for it.”

The incident occurred on the same day  as the university’s Take Back the Night, an event held to raise awareness of sexual assault.

Even though there were several students that complained to the dean of students’ office, there was nothing they could do about it. Saxton’s protests did not violate any student conduct codes and he was protected by the First Amendment’s free speech clause to say whatever he believed.

There have been other examples in which the First Amendment protected individuals or groups from being prosecuted for speaking out maliciously. For example, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church’s right to protest at military funerals. Chief Justice John Roberts said in his ruling that even the First Amendment protects "hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate." Justice Samuel Alito, the justice who voted against the Westboro Baptist Church said, "Our profound national commitment to free and open debate is not a license for the vicious verbal assault that occurred in this case.”

Although Saxton has the right under free speech to say whatever he wants to say, that should not give him the right to be horribly insensitive to the victims of sexual violence and to women in general. Our society seems to teach more along the lines of “this is how not to get raped” when it should be emphasizing “don’t rape” even more ferociously.

Sexual assault is a very serious situation on university campuses. U.S. Catholic’s feature article in the January 2012 issue shares how Catholic campuses are responding to sexual assault. Many blame the “hook-up culture” for this, but regardless of the reason sexual misconduct policies should be tightened to protect the victims and prevent future instances.