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Series explores social issues around rape

John Sweet presents on the history of rape and its persecution in America.
John Sweet presents on the history of rape and its persecution in America.

A lawyer, a historian and a social worker each offered their own take in a lecture Monday on how to tackle the complicated issue of rape.

The event was the first of four discussions this fall intended to address the issue of rape from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. The lecture series is funded by a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Program in Sexuality Studies and the Institute for the Arts and Humanities.

The three professors in Monday’s lecture spoke at Hyde Hall before a crowd of about 50.

“There’s probably not a silver bullet, or just one thing we can do to contain the incidence of sexual violence, it’s going to be multiple things,” said Rebecca Macy , the associate dean for academic affairs at the UNC School of Social Work.

Macy spoke about the interaction of societal, cultural, familial and individual factors that enable sexual violence to occur, as well as programs that can help prevent assaults and aid survivors during the recovery process.

One prevention strategy discussed at the event was bystander intervention, which focuses on teaching people to recognize and respond to situations involving sexual assault. This is the goal of initiatives on campus such as UNC’s One Act program, which educates students about how they can prevent interpersonal violence on campus.

John Sweet, a history professor, provided a historical context by which to assess and change how people think about rape.

One issue brought up in the lecture was the low reporting rate for rape on campus. The prosecution of rape, Sweet argued, has historically been as much about social hierarchy as it has been about justice, embedding a double standard within the prosecution of rape.

“I think if we want to address our current concerns, we’re going to need to understand our history and find new ways of looking beyond it,” Sweet said.

Beth Posner, a professor at the UNC School of Law, said inequities exist for rape victims in the court of law in North Carolina.

In criminal court, victims of rape are made witnesses in their trial as the state prosecutes the defendant.

But in civil court, victims of rape serve as the plaintiff, — an important equalizer, Posner said.

“I get to let my clients tell their stories, and that’s what they report feeling the most empowered by,” she said.

The next three lectures held this fall will be: “Is Rape Political?,” “(How) Can We Talk About Rape?” and “Is Rape Different at College?”

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