Reclaiming the darkness from sexual, relationship, and domestic violence, the crowd solemnly held candles as they listened to the harrowing stories of survivors. This should be the last place on campus where victims and advocates are made to feel unsafe.
Take Back the Night is a combined protest and vigil that dates back to the 1970’s, following a sharp spike in documented violent crimes against women.
“UNH began these marches in the 90’s and we look forward to them every year now,” said Shannon Bryant, a UNH student and the Outreach Assistant at the Sexual Harassment & Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) as she addressed the crowd on Nov. 15. “Tonight we are showing that sexual violence, victim-blaming and rape culture have no place on this campus.”
“We are also showing to those that have experienced these epidemics, that you have allies here. As Wildcats, we care about these issues and we are working to prevent them," Bryant said. "We ask that if you are comfortable, you join us when we begin a chant so that we are heard all over campus. While we would like to be heard, we also ask that everyone is respectful during the course of this event.”
Despite specifically asking participants to remain respectful, a group of men followed the procession, harassing the crowd as it marched and chanted. Among other things, the group of agitators inverted a common sexual assault prevention chant, shouting “assault is hot, consent is not.”
Responding in a public statement, SHARPP called the disruptions “antithetical” to the mission of Take Back the Night.
The statement explained that “marchers heard these comments and witnessed the behaviors and felt unsafe and unsupported.” In addition, the crisis and prevention center stated that the “large event that had been going so well was quickly tainted by a small group of students who made very poor decisions.”
Recognizing its thirtieth year since inception, the groundbreaking prevention and advocacy program is all too familiar with survivors and allies being harassed while taking a stand.
In May of 1987, after a highly public allegation of sexual assault in the largest dorm on campus, hundreds of students and concerned community members marched past Stoke Hall (the stark eight-story residential tower where the assault took place). They were protesting the decision of an internal hearing that cleared the three assailants of any sexual misconduct allegations, suspending two of them for one semester for unrelated violations and dropping all charges against the third. The victim of the assault was in attendance at the protest.
According to UNH alum Paul Keegan’s 1987 article for New England Monthly, “More than two hundred people showed up at a protest demonstration that was crashed by a group of about twenty fraternity members and boys from the fourth floor of Stoke. ‘Dykes!” they yelled. ‘Lesbians! Man-haters!’ Then it got much uglier. ‘Look out, we’re gonna rape you next!’ shouted one. ‘I had [the victim] last night,’ cried another.”
As the group marched to the office of then Dean of Students, J. Gregg Sanborn, they ran into him on the sidewalk. Surrounding him with linked arms and refusing to let him leave until he promised to respond to their demands, Sanborn capitulated but defended the university’s handling of the conduct hearing.
“Demonstrators marched to his office, announced they were relieving him of his duties, and hung a HELP WANTED sign from the flagpole,” Keegan’s wrote in his article.
Four months earlier, on Feb. 19, 1987, a frigid Thursday night, sophomores Christopher Spann, Jonathan Fox, and Gordon Williams were about ready to head home from the bar. New England residents who loved to drink in the dingy fraternity houses that mark the road behind their dorm, the three friends appeared as normal as they come at UNH.
Despite being underage, Spann, Fox (both 20 at the time), and Williams (who was 19) had no problem getting served at the bar at that night, drinking about six beers a piece before calling it a night and returning home - a fourth-floor room in Stoke Hall.
Then, just as now, the brick and concrete building loomed over the center of campus, demarcating the line where the school ended and boozy frat parties began, just a block behind the dorm. With windowless, claustrophobic hallways lined by rows and rows of small and often crowded rooms - at times reminiscent of cells or pens - it’s easy to understand why students at the time called it The Zoo.
At the same time, just a steps away from Stoke, in the crowded basement a frat house known as PIKE, a female freshman was beginning to black out.
Before reaching their rooms on the fourth floor, fraternity brothers Fox and Williams encountered the young woman from PIKE in their hallway. Clearly intoxicated, her shirt-tail sticking through the zipper of her pants, she asked them for help finding for her friends.
Instead, Fox asked her for a goodnight hug. She obliged. Then he asked for a kiss. Again, she complied. Not wanting to impede his fraternity brother’s sexual exploits, Williams took his cue and left for his room. Shortly thereafter, Fox entered his own with the freshman in tow. Wordlessly, he began having intercourse with the young woman.
According to Keegan’s article, after Fox was finished, he fetched Williams, telling him that he “just did it with a girl; she’s really horny.”
Williams, still in his underwear, followed Fox to his room and approached the woman on the bed as the door closed behind him. Leaving Williams and the female freshman in his room, Fox then ran upstairs to get his roommate, Spann. They returned to find two female friends from their floor at their door, Linda Black and her roommate Laura. As Fox chatted with the two, Spann silently slipped into their shared room.
When the women went to follow him, Fox stopped them, according to police reports, saying “Don’t go in. Gordy (Williams) is in there doing bad things with a drunk girl.”
The women laughed it off, but on their way back to their room mentioned the encounter to their RA, Andrew Prescott. Deciding to check on the state of the intoxicated woman, he headed to the room and after knocking, opened the door.
According to Keegan’s article, “when no one answered, he opened the door and saw two figures silhouetted on a bed. (He would later learn it was Jon, having a second round with the girl.) Prescott also saw Chris, sitting on a couch next to the bed, watching. (Chris maintains he was simply getting dressed)”.
“Is she really drunk?”, Prescott asked Spann.
According to police records but denied by Spann, he nodded and laughed.
“Do you know what you’re doing could be considered rape?”, Prescott said.
“Not, it’s not,” Spann responded.
Prescott thought he had succeeded in convincing Spann to make the young woman leave, but not before Spann demanded to first speak with her in private.
“Despite his role as the enforcer and voice of reason,” Keegan outlined in his article, “Prescott nonetheless thought the event on his floor were entertaining so much so that he went to see two of his friends and told them what had happen. ‘'Wow! No way! Unbelievable!' Prescott remembers them saying. ‘We were all laughing. It was funny, in a sick kind of way.’”
As Prescott waited in the hallway with a growing crowd of residents curious about the late-night commotion, Fox emerged from the room. According to Prescott’s statement to the police, but denied by Fox, he boasted about his encounter in explicit detail, telling them he “had a train going on his room” before high-fiving everyone in the hallway.
The crowd outside the room continued to grow as the two female students from earlier, Linda and Laura, joined the group, discussing what was happening inside with the rest of the congregation.
“One of the boys suggested Joe [another student from Stoke’s fourth floor] could get lucky too,” Linda Black recalled in Keegan’s article.
As they continued light-heartedly discussing the morality of what was happening just outside the door, inside the room, Spann spoke to the woman for the first time. As she was getting dressed, he told her about the audience that awaited her in the hallway and how best to avoid them. She was unsuccessful, and as she stumbled into the crowd in the hallway, the demeanor of the six floor-neighbors changed. They recognized her. “To their astonishment, everyone recognized [the victim], the girl who lived on the same floor. They had all assumed it was someone they didn't know, maybe a high school girl. Suddenly the atmosphere in the hallway changed,” wrote Keegan, “Linda and Laura were outraged. "You assholes!" one of them screamed. ‘How could you do such a thing!’ No one was more shocked than Jon: ‘You mean you know her?’ It was at that moment that Jon and Chris heard her name for the first time.”
Now that the target of Fox, Spann, and Williams’ sexual advances ceased to be anonymous, but instead was revealed to be someone from their own floor, the severity of the situation and the realities of a potential assault started to become clear. The potential ramifications dawning on them, they immediately searched for their victim, entering her room and waking her roommate as they tried to rouse her from a drunken slumber. Initially unresponsive, they managed to wake her, prop her up and leave the room with her wrapped in a blanket. Retroactively wanting to agree on the course of events, they brought the woman to the stairwell, hoping to establish their own account with her. Spann then told Fox to leave so he could speak with her in private. When he left, Spann again had sex with the woman on the landing. According to a Boston Globe article from October 4, 1987, after speaking to several friends and dorm counselors over the weekend, the 19-year-old survivor, unable to recall the events of Feb. 19, went to the campus health center for an exam who notified the university police.
After being interviewed by officers, Spann and Fox were indicted for aggravated sexual assault by a grand jury, a charge that can result in fifteen years in prison, while Williams was charged with misdemeanor sexual assault. When the three men vehemently denied any wrongdoing to campus police officers, the mechanisms for an internal hearing commenced. With no internal precedent for handling sexual assault cases differently than run of the mill disciplinary violations, a system designed to address minor offenses and overseen by a combination of students and faculty quickly proved to be ill-equipped to handle a case of such gravity.
“Some students have criticized the university for allowing the accused to attend classes and, until a week ago, to remain in their room in Stoke Hall, the coed dormitory where the alleged rape occurred. Students have also accused the university of trying to hush up the matter”, said a Boston Globe article from March 15, 1987.
THE PUBLIC RESPONDS
Two weeks later, in the middle of a March that still felt like the dead of winter, students and faculty crunched through frozen early-morning snow on their way to class. It’s easy not to lift your eyes when rushing between heated buildings on well-rehearsed but precariously icy routes, but on that frigid morning in Durham, students cutting through the center of campus classes stopped in the cold. Dangling from a ledge of the picturesque, white-columned Hamilton Smith Hall were two effigies, their faces painted and nooses strung around their necks. A third sat on the ledge under a six-foot by four-foot banner.
It read “Beware Boys, Rape Will Not Be Tolerated.” Graffiti scrawled on the path leading to then-president Gordon Haaland’s residence read “Gordon, why do you allow rapists to stay on campus.”
"We're not trying them for rape, we are trying them for respect for others," the Associate Dean of Student Affairs told the Boston Globe that May.
Standing by their innocence on grounds that the woman was a consenting and willing participant in their sex acts, a cunning legal defense team representing Spann, Williams, and Fox aimed to turn public opinion, succeeding in making the normally private disciplinary hearings public.
Held in the middle of the day in the largest lecture hall in Hamilton Smith, the disciplinary proceedings unfolded to a capacity crowd, with both the victim and her family in attendance.
“Linda [Black], who was one of the witnesses who recognized [the victim] when she emerged from the room, is transferring to another school. Last spring she took one look at the huge crowds at the Judicial Board hearings and walked away,” Keegan wrote in his article, “The next day she was convinced that telling her story was the right thing to do; now she's not so sure. Fraternity members are mad at her, and she's disillusioned about the social life at UNH. "I guess rape happens all the time here," she says, sitting on the bed in her dorm room, wearing shorts and a UNH sweatshirt.”
Despite New Hampshire and many other states instituting so-called “rape shield” laws designed to bar slut-shaming court testimony about a victim’s prior sexual conduct, student advisors at the internal UNH hearing tried time and time again to elicit testimony about the Stoke assault victim’s sexual history on campus.
According to the Globe from May 10, 1987, “The advisers' persistence with questions about the victim's prior behavior angered other women at the hearing, who said in a letter to Sanborn that the alleged victim was put on trial. The woman's father, who declined to be interviewed, made his objections known too.”
Preparing for the Grand Jury trial that would follow, the defense attorneys of the accused assailants hired a stenographer to record each witnesses’ testimony. Despite not being allowed to directly advise their clients during the proceedings, they used the internal conduct system as a dry-run for criminal proceedings in superior court.
On May 6, 1987, to the shock and dismay of sexual assault prevention activists, the judicial committee judges announced that they had cleared all three accused men of any sexual misconduct charges.
Citing a breach of a mutual respect policy based on their exchanges with floor neighbors, the judicial committee suspended Spann and Fox for a summer. The committee dropped all charges against Williams, who wept with joy upon hearing the verdict.
THE TIPPING POINT:
As Keegan describes in his article, the committee’s verdict tipped the campus “poised at the precipice for months” over the edge.
According to a UPI article from May 12, 1987, “About 200 students rallied Tuesday at the University of New Hampshire to protest a ruling by the school's student judicial panel… The rally, attended mostly by women students, was countered by male students from the dormitory where the woman was allegedly assaulted, who said the woman was 'guilty' of encouraging the men.”
An article from two days prior in the Globe reported that “Fraternity brothers [were] on defensive because, as one said, their all male clubs are the "scapegoats" when allegations of sexual misconduct are made. The woman had attended a fraternity party before the alleged incident and two of the men accused are members of another fraternity.”
From the original group of a couple of hundred, 20 hard-nosed activists splintered and occupied the office of the administration, who, according to a UPI story from May 16 1987, said there were “no significant flaws in the panel’s hearing process.”
The sit-in lasted three days, as protesters demanded the administration overturn the judicial panel ruling and apologize to directly to the victim.
Finally, after missing the final administration ultimatum, campus police arrested 11 students who left in handcuffs to the applause of dozens of students awaiting them in front of Huddleston Hall.
During their sit-in, other groups had barricaded the doors to the office, even going so far as to pitch support tents outside of the building.
That summer, as the campus calmed down as it emptied and administrators scrambled to find solutions, a 20-year-old Newmarket man by the name of Gary Fecteau began targeting college aged women in and around Durham. Just as the horrors of so-called “acquaintance-rape” were finally coming to the forefront of the campus community’s awareness, another horrific reality of sexual assault dawned on the rural community - a serial rapist.
Around 1 am on June 1st, 1987, according to court records, a female UNH student in her early twenties was busy moving into her new Dover apartment, just minutes from the campus in Durham. As she climbed down her stairs to grab another load of stuff from her car and she noticed someone in her well-lit staircase, she expected to see her roommate, another female UNH student who had left to grab some food a few hours prior, but instead saw Fecteau. She walked past him and to her car, taking note of his face.
When she came back upstairs to her new apartment, the man was gone. She went inside and tried to lock the door behind her, but after fiddling with the unfamiliar lock and failing to get it to latch, decided to just close the door. It was a safe and quiet part of Dover.
She shut off the lights and went to bed.
Moments after going to bed, she heard a noise from her living room. A large silhouette appeared in her doorway. Motionless and silent, the dark figure loomed for fifteen to twenty seconds - an eternity for the young college student in her bed.
While that assault was ultimately prevented by the return of the student’s roommate, that summer, Fecteau would continue to strike.
Without a means of documenting or recording assaults publicly and with the police failing to arrest a suspect, fear and misinformation spread through the half abandoned summer campus until finally, after being detained as he attempted to attack another young woman, Fecteau was arrested and over the coming months, linked to the other assaults.
As the Fall Semester of 1988 began, the atmosphere on campus grew tense. Public safety vehicles were suddenly a normal sight rolling through campus, and according to The New Hampshire, many female students began walking in groups, utilizing a newly implemented escort service, and generally avoided walking around at night. The university allocated funding for a full-time rape prevention advocate on campus, creating SHARPP.
The student paper stated in an article from that September outlined that “as the campus gears up for another year, it now faces new problems. Rape is a real issue and only heightened awareness can solve this problem, a problem which will not go away.”
That summer, as two of the accused attackers served their semester-long suspension and awaited their grand jury trial, the university moved to appoint the first Violence Against Women Committee. As the school year commenced, the committee launched a nationally unprecedented study on unwanted sexual experiences on campus, ultimately revealing a shocking statistics that suggested roughly one third of female UNH students had experienced some degree of unwanted sexual contact.
As classes commenced, so did the Grand Jury trial of Spann and Fox, who still faced up to fifteen years in prison for their actions in Stoke. Shocking the judge, but not experienced rape advocacy professionals, the victim, now at a different school and hoping to put the horrific events of the previous spring behind her, accepted the first plea deal she was offered.
“The woman and her family felt that her reputation had been ‘very much damaged’ during the university judicial board hearings that were held in public at the request of defense lawyers for the three men,” states a Globe article from the time, “Rundles said the woman felt some 'vindication for herself' since, under the agreement, Fox and Spann would be required to plead guilty, instead of no contest, to the misdemeanor charge and because they were required to write letters of apology to her.”
The plea deal resulted in Fox and Span being charged with a misdemeanor sexual assault offense, 3 months in jail (eligible for release in 60 days on good behavior), 2 years probation, 120 hours of community service, attending a course, and writing their victim a letter of apology. Initially, the defense and prosecution had settled on no jail time and instead just a tour of the state prison, but the judge rejected it for being too lenient.
Despite breaking convention by serving any jail time at all, both men were immediately eligible for work release programs. Within three years of completing their sentences they would be eligible to expunge their record, essentially erasing any public record of their crimes. In a different trial, Williams, facing misdemeanor sex assault charges was fully exonerated.
The verdicts sent a disturbing message to assault victims pursuing criminal or disciplinary charges on campus.
“According to Maggie Morrison, the coordinator of the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program, 10 cases of alleged acquaintance rape have been reported since September, and seven of them were handled through counseling and other support services. Three cases were reported to the campus police, which forwards such charges to the student judicial board, but two of the women later decided not to go forward, Morrison said. The third case is the one that allegedly occurred at Stoke Hall last winter,” according to the May 10 Globe article outlining the verdict.
Rattled by the organized community outrage then-President Haaland instituted sweeping changes in concession to the sit-in, demonstrations, and intense public spotlight following the Stoke case. Most notably, the university allocated funds for a full-time rape services coordinator, a decision that would ultimately establish just the second on-campus rape crisis center in higher education history (to this day, SHARPP remains one of only five comparable centers in the nation).
Now thirty years in, SHARPP employs 7 full-time staff members with a combined federal, state, and university funded budget. In addition to its paid employees, SHARPP trains and manages dozens of highly qualified volunteers responsible for instituting education prevention efforts, operating a 24-hour crisis support line, as well as accompanying victims in medical and criminal procedures.
“It’s two halves but we all work together in supporting survivors,” said Zachary Ahmad-Kahloon, the full-time Program Coordinator and Educator at SHARPP. “Me, hopefully before something has happened and the direct services staff after.”
After volunteering at SHARPP in different capacities for the duration of his undergraduate career at UNH, Ahmad-Kahloon started working full-time for the program in the fall of 2014, right after graduation.
In 2011, as UNH lost 45 percent of its state budget in an unprecedented round of cuts, the Dear Colleague movement invigorated the Obama administration to overhaul Title IX equity demands to include sexual violence as an issue of gender discrimination. With newly secured independent funds and accountability, SHARPP invested heavily in community education.
Three years later in 2014, UNH still reeling, SHARPP’s campaign paid dividends.
“That year we had a 40 percent increase in survivors walking through the front door seeking services,” Ahmad-Kahloon in his ground-floor office in SHARPP’s headquarters, Wolff House - a charmingly out of place old Victorian in the center of a rapidly modernizing campus. “We had administrators panic. ‘What does this mean, does that mean there are 40 percent more rapes happening on campus?’ - No, it’s not that more rapes are happening, it’s that more people are seeking services and that’s a positive. We have more people looking for help.”
According to Ahmad-Kahloon, misconceptions about SHARPP’s role on campus run deep. He explained that at initially, when compared to other schools, students and families are confused about the program’s visible advocacy presence around UNH.
“I think at first lot of parents feel like it’s indicative of a problem meaning that their son or daughter has a greater risk of being assaulted here and that’s why SHARPP exists,” he said, “when in fact we know that it’s pretty common on all college campuses unfortunately, but very few colleges have a program that’s willing to support and advocate for those victims on their campus.”
Notoriously evasive from the realities of campus sex crimes, colleges and universities have consistently failed to provide accurate sexual violence prevalence data on their own student populations. Despite being legally obligated to publish reports of criminal activity on public university campuses through the Clery Act, most schools are allowed to dictate what constitutes sexual assault in their own files, most opting to report the claim only when pursued as a formal, fully investigated conduct or criminal case.
In addition to the suppressive institutional powers of cash-strapped universities with carefully crafted images to maintain, survivors of campus assaults can be deterred from reporting the crime for fear retaliation from their attackers, their misinformed and callous campus culture, or the return of re-traumatizing cross examinations in contested disciplinary cases.
Obscuring the true scope of the issue further, the federal government has conducted less than a handful of comprehensive national studies into sexual violence against women on college campuses.
Among them, the only remaining public health oriented study is the Center for Disease Control’s National Intimate Partner Violence Survey (NIPSV), a phone poll. Sponsored by the Department of Justice, the other government-sponsored research programs operate from a perspective almost entirely dictated by the criminal justice system - a vantage point that quickly exposed its limitations for advocacy work.
In 2007, a D.O.J. led study known as the National Crime Victimization Survey, reported prevalence statistics that initially appeared encouraging. Ultimately hailed by critics of sexual assault prevention advocacy expansion as ‘debunking’ the myth of campus rape culture, the study concluded that only 11 percent of students experienced sexual violence and that the rate of sexual assault and rape was actually higher for non-students of the same age.
Shortly after being published, assault prevention professionals quickly dismissed the study as intrinsically flawed, citing that among other issues, it was never peer reviewed, didn’t count sexual assaults that occurred while the victim was incapacitated, contacted students primarily using landlines, and conducted interviews from home, often within earshot of family members.
Despite the massive shortcomings of the study though, it still managed to reveal disturbing insights into the systemic barriers that victims face when reporting their assaults to officials, concluding that 80 percent of the study’s respondent student victims didn’t report their assault.
With an issue as poorly researched and understood as sexual misconduct, the D.O.J.’s Campus Sexual Assault Study (CAS) from 2007, despite being a decade old, it's data concluding that 19 percent of female students experienced some form of sexual assault. Out of the students assaulted. It also states that 84% of respondent female survivors report being sexually assaulted during their first two years on campus.
Most shockingly, the report asserted that only 12 percent of rapes were reported to law enforcement, citing reasons from fear of personal or institutional retaliation, fear of being treated poorly in criminal proceedings
According to a separate study commissioned by the D.O.J. in 2000, between 20 and 25 percent of female students experienced sexual assault during their tenure in college. The NIPSV reported in 2017 that roughly one third of women were victims of physical sexual violence at some point in their lives, specifying that according to their data, 19 percent experiencing an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
In 2015, the Association of American Universities (AAU) published a campus climate survey on sexual assault that gathered data from 27 colleges and universities and 150,000 students. Setting the new national standard for prevalence rates, the exhaustive study concluded that 23 percent female undergraduate student respondents had had been forced to experience some instance of sexual assault and misconduct due to physical force, threats of force, or incapacitation.
According to May 2017 study by the American Association of University Women based on 2015 Clery Act reports of campus crimes, a staggering 89 percent of all colleges reported zero incidents of rape in 2015.
“That number is shocking because 90 percent of campuses haven’t solved the problem, it’s not that sexual assaults are not happening,” said Ahmad-Kahloon. “Students either don’t know how to talk to their universities about it it, their mandated reporters aren’t reporting that information, that their folks are hearing about it and saying ‘you don’t need to do anything about it’, or, in the worst case, they’re getting to the university administrators that are supposed to do something about it.”
Where other schools balk at studying or confronting sexual violence within their increasingly manicured campus borders, UNH is obligated by its past failures to directly confront the issue.
Actively researching its own student body with the support of the Violence Against Women Committee thirty years ago and the in-house criminology think-tank Justiceworks today, the university has a deeper collection of data than most national oversight agencies. Forced to provide their own research in an understudied issue, SHARPP was put in the unique position of developing programs directly based on the needs of its clients.
Ted Kirkpatrick, the current Dean of Students and Senior Vice Provost for Student Life also serves as a Co-Director of Justiceworks. He was working for the institution in 1987. “What I can say, having witnessed those events firsthand, is that there was a growing movement of students, graduate students, faculty, and staff at the time who strongly encouraged UNH to develop and implement a durable structure of support services for victims and survivors of sexual assault. A series of acute, traumatic incidents served to galvanize the movement that led ultimately to the establishment of SHARPP, a unit vital to the campus for thirty years,” he said.
UNH Chief of Police and Executive Director of Public Safety, Paul Dean was a young UNH Police Officer in 1987 when took witness statements after the the dorm-room assault.
“The Stoke Hall sexual assault created a seismic shift in institutional response to violence against women offenses. Although law enforcement training, response and investigation have evolved over the years, this very personal crime still remains difficult for victims to consider pursuing a public trial,” he said.
At times it can seem like UNH has done everything it can to confront the issues surrounding campus sexual assault in its community, but to experienced professionals like those at SHARPP, displays of intolerance like those at Take Back the Night in November reveal the same culture that fostered the systemic victim-blaming of the 1980's bubbling just under the surface.
“Thinking about the incident that started SHARPP is hard because we see remnants of those things to this day in how things were handled in the hearing, in how things were handled by the university,” said Ahmad-Kahloon. “For individuals to show up at an event about reclaiming the safety of the night time and do things that are disrespectful and make people uncomfortable, it speaks to me that there is still a huge cultural problem within organizations, within our campus.”
“We still have acts of violence, acts of victim blaming, acts of rape culture that we’re still steeped in, even with SHARPP being here and with its history… it’s disheartening, even with an organization like SHARPP celebrating its thirtieth anniversary,” Ahmad-Kahloon added, “because when ten folks show up at Take Back the Night and are chanting ‘assault is hot, consent is not’ for the whole walk, you have to say that we have a problem. It’s not solved and while I love to say that SHARPP has been here for thirty years, we still have a lot of work to do.”
Despite the mobilization of groundswell activism that answered the horrific events of that year and the decades of unparalleled success in the assault prevention field, Amy Culp, the current Director of SHARPP still sees major hurdles that have yet to be overcome. “As we know, sexual violence is still a vastly underreported crime and this is for a number of very serious reasons. First and foremost, victim/survivors fear they will not be believed and/or supported which says a lot about the stigma that is still attached to sexual assault and how survivors are received,” Culp said, adding that “They have already had their power and control taken away so it makes sense that they would not want to risk the potential of having further harm done to them through by reporting. We cannot fault survivors for exercising their right to self-care after a trauma when society has not presented them with a kind, fair option.” Citing SHARPP’s legal victory in securing Title IX funding under the definition of sexual assault prevention as a matter of gender equality, Culp has helped nurture the revolutionary program for the better part of fifteen years. Now, as she faces down funding uncertainties stemming from a Department of Education committed to undoing Obama era equity provisions and witnessing the harassment of fellow Wildcats, Culp is forced to see UNH as representative of a much larger moment of reckoning.
“It is a sad, and angering, reminder that we are a microcosm of the larger world. We wish that we could be insulated, and isolated, from the national scale, but we are not. SHARPP has done a lot of work over the past thirty years to improve responses for survivors and to educate the larger UNH-community,” Culp said. "We have made strides but situations like Take Back the Night reminds all that we have a long way to go.”
Not unlike the shadow of Stoke Hall, still looming over the campus like a fortress made of brick and concrete, displays of ignorance like those at Take Back the Night reveal the persistent spectre of sexual violence hanging over the University of New Hampshire.