Editor’s Note: This article contains a discussion of sexual assault and rape culture. If you or someone you know has been affected, there are resources available at the bottom of the page.
As I walked around campus last Thursday, I noticed something different almost immediately: Purple windmills lined the edge of the grounds in front of the CIC. A friend pointed to a nearby sign: The Anonymous Sexual Assault and Rape Hotline (SARAH) had installed 2,505 windmills around campus for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and each reel represented a student from Washington who had been affected by a sexual assault, according to the 2019 campus climate survey. It was then that I looked into the distance and saw that the windmills weren’t right at my feet – I could also see purple spots lining the other side of the field. These purple windmills lined the entirety of Mudd Field, and more were scattered elsewhere on campus. As I walked to the courtyards throughout the day, I noticed these miniature windmills popping up everywhere.
While I was aware of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses across the country – Wash. U. included – windmills brought a tangible image to the numbers. As a freshman, seeing the windmills lined up all over the field and scattered around campus for the first time was powerful, and the image remains powerful whenever I walk around campus. These windmills also feel personal – they represent people on our campus, people we live with and have classes with and share community space with. The problem is personal because it is the problem of our community. It happens on our campus to our fellow students.
For many, sexual assault is an uncomfortable topic. We don’t want to think about the size of a number of 2,505 and we avoid dealing with the prevalence of the problem. We tend to dismiss this friend who jokes a little too much about girls who “ask”. We dismiss our concerns with the belief that we overreact or that a trusted friend would never act maliciously. The purple mills force us to face the uncomfortable.
Yes, windmills are just windmills – in the end, they won’t change anything on their own. Windmills don’t make sense unless we give them that meaning. But the fact that each of the 2,505 windmills represents a person affected by sexual assault on campus gives weight to the windmills. If each student really takes the time to think about the meaning of windmills and understand the urgency of the problem, windmills become more than just a miniature plastic decoration. They are there to serve not only as a reminder, but also as a way for every student to combat the severity and gravity of sexual assault on our campus.
While thinking is important, change requires more than just acknowledging the problem. According to the 2019 survey, 42.5% of women and 20.1% of men experience sexual assault during their 4 years in Washington. It means calling our friends when they make this harmful joke. It means not to discredit a friend’s concerns about another student. It means believing friends when they share their experiences. It means learning about how our culture perpetuates sexual assault.
To globally reduce the prevalence of sexual assault, we must address systemic issues such as rape culture which reinforces the silence of the victims, the lack of consequences with which the authors are confronted in particular in universities, lack of trauma-informed support needed by victims during reporting and other national concerns. But tackling these larger problems begins with individual action. Confronting this friend may cause them to question their own problematic behavior in the future. Acknowledging your own contributions to the culture of rape by excusing a friend’s behavior or using harmful language yourself can help achieve the larger goal of eliminating a culture that excuses behavior rooted in silence and silence. blame the victims. Validating a friend’s experience can have significant results: a 2014 national study of female rape victims found that positive disclosure encounters can help encourage survivors to continue the action and report on their experiences. It all has to start at the individual level. And for these individual actions to begin, it takes thought. For this thinking to happen, there has to be a reminder: in this case, the 2,505 purple windmills scattered across campus.
I hope the campus community as a whole has taken the opportunity to reflect on the seriousness of this issue. Each reel carries a significant weight, and the large number of reels serves as an important and personal reminder of the prevalence of sexual assault on our campus. This reminder can provoke thought, which can trigger meaningful conversations, which can ultimately lead to action.
The Anonymous Sexual Assault and Rape Helpline (SARAH) provides confidential and anonymous support and can be reached at 314-935-8080 24/7 during the fall and spring academic semesters.
There are counselors at the Center for the Prevention of Relationships and Sexual Violence (RSVP), located at Seigle Hall, Suite 435, available in confidence to any student at the University. The office can be reached on tel: 314-935-3445 or by email at mailto:[email protected]
The National Sexual Assault Hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-4673 or through the online chat at https://hotline.rainn.org/online 24/7.