On Sunday, Feb. 10, It Happens Here (IHH), a sexual assault awareness student organization, revealed the results of their Map Project, showing the student-submitted locations of over 100 incidents of sexual assault that have occurred on campus.
The map, which is currently on display in the Davis Family Library atrium, shows the same campus map that is handed out at the Admissions Office, but is covered in large red dots, each of which identifies one of the 60 different locations on campus where a sexual assault has occurred.
According to Map Project organizers, over 100 students submitted personal stories — some more detailed and emotional than others — describing incidents of sexual assault for the project.
Members of IHH launched the project in the fall of 2012 by collecting anonymous submissions of incidents of sexual assault from students via the group’s website and then marked the location of each incident on the map. By pairing this collection of anonymous stories with a visual representation of where they occurred, IHH members sought to connect emotional experience with geographical proximity.
“The project began as a way to locate experiences of sexual assault and to make the subject personal and real,” explained Emily Pedowitz ’13, an IHH leader and member of the Sexual Assault Oversight Committee (SAOC). “We wanted to show that sexual assault at Middlebury is pervasive and occurs all over campus.”
IHH’s decision to use a map to identify the large presence of sexual violence on campus arose from the group’s desire to communicate their message through “showing instead of telling.”
Sujata Moorti, professor of women’s and gender studies, agrees that the visual element of the Map Project provides a new perspective in the discussion of sexual assault on campus.
“This visual summary of the prevalence of sexual assaults may help highlight how widespread and ‘ordinary’ this phenomenon is on campus,” said Moorti. “Often we think that sexual assault takes place ‘out there,’ but to know that it takes place in the same dorm could help raise consciousness.
“Seeing assault in geographical and spatial terms may also help our community think more creatively about how to dismantle ‘rape culture,’” she added.
In response to student concerns that the map might create a stigma or reputation for certain locations on campus identified through the project — social houses, in particular — Luke Carroll-Brown ’13 countered that the map project sought to encourage positive change, and pointed out that social houses were not the most common locations on the map.
“The Map Project has never been about identifying danger zones on campus,” explained Carroll-Brown. “That would stink of emphasizing victim responsibility instead of placing accountability where it should lie: in the hands of the individuals who perpetrate these crimes.
“The Map Project is about coming clean with a problem [that] so many of us deny or disregard, putting the human impact of this epidemic in visual form and driving empathy amongst survivors,” he added.
In addition to providing a new way to draw attention to the issue of sexual assault on campus, Moorti suggested that the Map Project might also serve as a springboard for conversation regarding sexual violence and as a tool to further educate students about how and when sexual assault occurs. Academic studies on the subject indicate that sexual assault often occurs between two acquaintances rather than strangers, which has been echoed in some of the personal stories submitted to the project.
“Existing scholarship on sexual assault on college campuses indicates that it occurs largely among acquaintances and familiars,” Moorti said, citing an often misunderstood facet of sexual violence. “[Multiple studies] all concur that the majority of sexual assaults occur between people known to each other. Stranger assaults are rare.”
The project will remain on display in the library atrium until Sunday, Feb. 17. IHH is now working on collecting anonymous student monologues to present to the Middlebury community at an event in April. Students can submit their stories anonymously or find information to get involved with IHH online at go/ihh.