What were you doing on your first weekend here at University Park? Maybe you met your roommate for the first time or maybe you went to your first party. Whatever the experience, most people remember it as a positive one, but for some people, it can be a traumatic one. On August 30th, 2016, Penn State’s first “Timely Warning” notification for the start of the academic year was sent out about a forcible sex offense. These reports are sent because it’s “your right to know.” Penn State’s “Timely Warnings” are a means of communicating with the entire campus about threats to the safety of the community that have been reported. The most common report of violence is forcible sexual assault. Time and time again, the issue occurs, but the problem is not stopped. Through the analysis of this artifact, it can be seen that the rhetorical significance of this artifact lacks the ability to make an impression on its intended audience if civic life does not engage in the issue.
In looking at the artifact, the content of the warnings addresses some type of violence occurring on campus. The warning often provides information about the appearance of the suspect, including their race, sex, and age. This information can cause people to make biases about the attacker and draws attention to the repetitive nature of the attacker described throughout many warnings. In the most common description of the attacker, they are reported to be a white male of college age. This raises attention to some questions…”What does this trend mean about the way these issues are handled?” “What type of action should be taken to address these concerns?”
While this notification may be timely, students reporting the incidents lack kairos.The university cannot report to the public until the victims report the attack, putting civic life at risk and possibly deterring evidence of the attack. The warning also provides safety tips reminding students about consent, and further reminds people of the laws regarding sexual assault in the state of Pennsylvania in order to persuade people not to commit sexual assault and remind them of the negative consequences of their actions. This artifact simply reports the issue; it “warns” us that there is a problem. We don’t need a warning; we need a solution.
Speaking out about sexual assault has become a problem in mass media. While it is a commonplace that “rape is bad”, the rhetoric of the victims is silenced by the assumptions of people.There is the belief that all victims are women and that they provoked the attacks, or lie when they decide to come forward. The rhetoric cannot play a role in this artifact because of the assumptions of the audience. If there is no discussion, there can be no means to solve a problem. It is easy to say it was the victim’s fault, but we too, “turn a blind eye” from the issues in front of us. The rhetoric of this device aims to inform; to present the knowledge. Upon receipt of this information, it becomes the role of the community to become civically engaged in the issue in order for this artifact to take effect.
These “Timely Warnings” addressing sexual assault raise concerns on civic life. In society, many people view victims of rape as women. There is a natural inclination to distrust women based on the notion that they can’t control their emotions and that they are deceitful. When women come forward about the truth of their rape and use their voice to break the silence, society looks to other explanations. “Was she too drunk?” “Was she wearing revealing clothes?”
People often don’t believe the rhetoric argument made by victims when their attackers have a better reputation. The rhetoric of the victims goes unnoticed while people often sympathize with someone they know or someone beloved in the public eye. They are less likely to accuse these people of such a violent offense, even though, they, like everyone else, are just as capable of it. Nobody has a protection against accusation of rape, but in today’s world, it seems all a person needs is to be a man.
The stigma around the topic of rape very much exists. Victims who come forward are looked down upon for “ruining the life” of the attacker. In an attempt to use rhetoric to find justice, this rhetorical criticism is ignored so that they don’t have to evaluate the position of the speaker. By denying the fact they were violated, victims are forced to accept a lesser dignity and worth. People choose to believe the issue doesn’t happen and ignore the conversation because of the complications in proving the attack.
Choosing to ignore the rhetoric of victims beyond the facts presented in the “Timely Warnings” is what is encouraging this problem. The rhetoric presented in this artifact may persuade people that there is an issue, but rhetoric is contingent. The artifact requires the audience to act in order to make a difference on the issue. The silence on this topic is not protecting us, it’s suffocating us.