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Rubiales: What if the world didn’t see?

Imagine if Rubiales wasn’t captured on camera.

Luis Rubiales resigned from his position as head of the Spanish soccer federation on September 10th, 2023. For those who followed Jennifer Hermoso in this ordeal, it’s hard to understand why it took so long. An unwanted kiss broadcast on the international stage. It seemed open and shut. This is assault. Yet, in the face of the Spanish soccer team refusing to work with him and FIFA suspending him, he seemed not to care about the people who denounced his actions. He even had supporters, as famous as Woody Allen, who downplayed his actions.

“It was just a kiss, and she was a friend. What’s wrong with that?”

Woody Allen

So, in a situation like this, where the blatant exploitation of a power imbalance is made worse by toxic masculinity, what would have happened if the world didn’t rally behind Ms. Hermoso? This question is one that many people face. Moreover, while norms have changed and masculinity isn’t the same as it was, the fact that Mr. Rubiales had an outcry of support shows that the toxicity hasn’t completely abated.

Jane Doe

Let’s look at an example of how this might play out in a less public setting. Jane Doe works at a university lab and has a male supervisor, John. John asks Jane to work late nights on an important research project coming up to the ethics board, and Jane obliges. Jane does her research thoroughly. So much so, that when her and John present it to the ethics board, the board agrees without mandating any changes. This is unheard of! What a great accomplishment.

As Jane and John walk out of the meeting and the door closes, John grabs Jane’s face and kisses her on the lips. Jane, stunned, doesn’t react. She didn’t want to be kissed, and felt violated right away, but didn’t think anyone would believe her. Jane doesn’t say anything in the days afterwards, rationalizing that it wasn’t a big deal. “It was just a kiss, and he was a friend, as well as her supervisor. What’s wrong with that?”

It was just a kiss, or was it?

But it wasn’t just a kiss. And there was something wrong with that. When Jane gets the courage to say something to her friends in the following weeks, they question why she didn’t say something earlier. They don’t know that freezing is a common response in those situations. Nor do they understand that women will sometimes resort to the placating behaviours that society has conditioned them into when facing a male abuser.

Jane feels stuck. She wants to share her experience, maybe warn others about John’s behaviour, but she doesn’t know how. How can she feel safe saying it in person considering the reaction from her friends. She has mixed feelings about what to do next? What can she do?

Reporting using VESTA

Reporting sexual assault or abuse can be difficult for anyone in any situation. When there isn’t footage of it happening, people might misunderstand natural reactions to a traumatic event. Trauma is different for everyone and the effects of trauma can be influenced by many different internal and external factors. Up to 80% of the people who have unwanted experiences in the workplace do not report them. What would this mean if it was at your university, with a student and a professor at a lab in your research department?

Reporting options

Having multiple avenues for reporting assaults is necessary. Most people assume that there is a way for survivors to report anonymously online, but, until recently, there wasn’t. VESTA has two online options for people to chose from.

The first, online tool, called VESTA Anonymous Reporting, offers survivors the chance to report assaults and abuse anonymously. It comes from a trauma informed perspective and brings anonymous reports directly to your university’s sexual violence prevention services. However, If the survivor wants to report with their identity, there’s an option for that too. It’s called VESTA Online Reporting. It can connect survivors directly with support services on or off campus. Both these tools, or the full VESTA Campus suite, can also support survivors with reporting the incident to police.

In the case of Jane, she would have several options available to her. She would be able to file an anonymous report, allowing the University Sexual Violence Prevention Office to track trends and statistics. Maybe Jane wasn’t the only person John abused. Afterwards, if Jane wanted, she could follow up with the information she wrote in the reporting tool and submit it to the police.  VESTA would help her document a credible and reliable account of her experience, and our founder has written about the difference that can make in our current justice system. Imagine the difference having these options could make for Jane.  

Protecting survivors

While the cases above reference a male abuser and a female survivor, all genders are at risk of sexual abuse. Moreover, giving survivors a tool to report their experiences that doesn’t re-traumatize them shifts the power imbalance. What’s more, giving the students, of any gender, in your university the chance to disclose and report in ways that suit their needs is giving power to survivors. And, if as in the case of Rubiales, the perpetrator denies doing anything wrong, then that raises big red flags for other behaviours. As the New York Times has previously reported, “experts note one last trait shared by men who have raped: they do not believe they are the problem.”

Written by: Ilyas

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