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Holmes Norton leads ‘provocative’ panel on campus sexual assault

Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., joined a panel of universities’ Title IX coordinators and other local sexual assault prevention advocates for a discussion about sexual violence on college campuses on Thursday night.

But members of Students Against Sexual Assault said though Norton’s comments may have been well-intended, they were insensitive toward sexual assault survivors. They also said Norton’s comments did not support campus advocates’ recent focus on education and survivor support.

“We have to first understand that we live in a society that is soaked in sex so we should not be surprised that young people would soak it in,” Norton said during the panel. “What we have is boys gone wild.”

Norton told the audience that she made her statements “provocative” to prompt the discussion between herself and the audience. Norton’s office did not respond to request for additional comment.

The panel at American University included Title IX coordinator Rory Muhammad and SASA co-president Kirsten Dimovitz.

SASA director of policy and outreach, Lauren Courtney, said Norton’s talk focused on men sexually assaulting women, and Norton said sexual assault survivors have the responsibility to say “no,” which could could make a survivor feel blamed for the attack.

“Obviously this is something we really took issue with and the responsibility to say no because it’s the responsibility of both partners to be aware of what is going on in an interaction,” Courtney said.

Courtney said while SASA members and other advocates “appreciated the conversation,” Norton and other speakers needed to be better educated about how to deal with survivors, because certain words or phrasing can trigger memories.

“We try to make these baby steps to having better informed conversations. Whenever someone wants to have a conversation like this they need to have better background,” Courtney said. “It can scare survivors and make them less likely to speak on panels or speak to legislators to make change in the future.”

Courtney added that Holmes did not address sexual violence in the LGBT community. The results of GW’s campus climate survey earlier this year showed that 35 percent of LGBT students who responded had experienced unwanted sexual behavior.

Muhammad said during the panel he is working to connect students with campus resources with whom they feel comfortable talking.

“There are some LGBT students that may not be comfortable to me. Some have said that they feel comfortable and some have said that they don’t, so it’s given me a chance to look at the environment from the outside in and the inside out,” Muhammad said.

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