#NotAllMen, but #YesAllWomen: Campus Tragedy Spurs Debate on Sexual Violence

May 28, 2014

The shooting rampage on Friday near the University of California at Santa Barbara, apparently motivated by the gunman’s anger at having been rejected by women, has sparked a broader discussion of violence against women on campuses and beyond. College students and young alumni raised their voices over the weekend on Twitter, responding to the hashtag #NotAllMen with the label #YesAllWomen.

The gunman, 22, who killed six students at Santa Barbara before fatally shooting himself, left behind a chilling video and diatribe describing hateful views of women and promising to "punish" them for never being attracted to him. On the whole, the #YesAllWomen conversation argues that, while not all men are misogynistic, all women face the threat of gender-based violence at some point in their lives. The hashtag was used more than a million times by Tuesday morning, according to CNN.

"Because college campuses tell women, ‘Don’t walk home alone at night,’ when they should tell men, ‘Keep your hands to yourself,’ #YesAllWomen," one person wrote. "The fact that my college campus has a parking lot known as ‘rape lot.’ #YesAllWomen," said another.

Most people who exhibit gender bias are not mass killers, noted S. Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative at the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, an advocacy group representing survivors and victims of the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. But the conversation following the tragedy in Santa Barbara is important, he said.

"Nonmass violence is where the real threat lies," said Mr. Carter, who lobbied for the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, signed by President Obama last year. "It’s violence against women that happens in college communities every day, one on one," he said. "That is the real issue."

Students’ participation in the #YesAllWomen discussion occurred as many self-identified survivors of sexual assault and their supporters are pressing colleges to respond more fully to sexual harassment and violence. The White House has pledged a "coordinated federal response," and several dozen colleges and universities are now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education for, among other possible violations, not resolving students’ reports of rape promptly and fairly, as required by the federal gender-equity law known as Title IX.

"The irony is college campuses are 60-percent women, but there is a sexual-assault epidemic across the country," said Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations at the American Association of University Women. "A national dialogue is in order not just about rape culture," she said, "but the broader aspects of street harassment and the very value of women."

Campuses as a ‘Microcosm’

Students have taken the opportunity to make strong pronouncements. "Sexual assault on college campuses is a microcosm of the misogyny women experience in society at large," said Sofie Karasek, a rising senior at the University of California at Berkeley and an activist against sexual violence.

The shootings in Santa Barbara were "just a really extreme manifestation," she said. "Misogyny and sexual assault are big problems on college campuses."

Like other students, she used the hashtag to say that her university did not punish a classmate she says sexually assaulted her and others.

Allie Wilkinson, a 2007 graduate of Eckerd College who says she was sexually assaulted there, described her experience as unfortunately common.

"Part of what’s been so great about the #YesAllWomen hashtag is to see others discussing these things openly," Ms. Wilkinson said in an interview. "Seeing others speak frankly and publicly about it may encourage other women to speak up and know that they are not alone."

Some participants in the conversation have asked whether #YesAllWomen would have started had the shooting involved college women of color. Jenn M. Jackson, an adjunct instructor who teaches the course "Black Politics" at California State University at Fullerton, began using the hashtag #YesAllWhiteWomen.

If the shootings had happened at a historically black college, Ms. Jackson said in an interview, "the response would have been, ‘That’s what they do, they are thugs.’ It would have been written off. It may have made national news, but I highly doubt it."

That campus sexual assault has made national news lately concerns parents like Kathy A. Zahler, whose daughter will start college in the fall.

"Parents like me are not just buying laptops and dorm furniture for their children," said Ms. Zahler, who is from New York State. "They are arming them with information that they wish they didn’t have to give."

Kelly Bowker, who is headed to Arizona State University in August, said her parents and grandparents had advised her to carry pepper spray and not to take night classes, to stay safe. While many of her female friends have had similar conversations with their parents, she said, her male friends have not.

Ms. Bowker is encouraged by all the attention to preventing violence against women.

"Some people say complaining on social media doesn’t do anything," she said. "But there are so many women coming forward, and I hope people will listen."

Robin Wilson contributed to this report.