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Richson: Walking alone shouldn't be a gamble

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | OCTOBER 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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In a story reminiscent of every parent’s worst nightmare, University of Virginia student Hannah Graham has been missing since the second weekend of September, a time that should have been filled with beginning of the school year joys for Graham, her friends, and her family. Instead, they’re left to ponder the what-ifs of what could have happened had she not gone out that weekend.

Maybe it’s morbid of me, but I have been following this string of events since Day 1. Why? Because I know how easy it is to walk home alone, because you’re the only one headed in that direction, or how easy it is to leave without telling anyone, because you don’t want to be coerced into staying out later than you should. Because no one should have to believe he or she is not going to make it home safely.

As the Graham story has made its rounds through different news media, most recently with the development that remains have been found and are being forensically analyzed, members of the public (of course) have taken it upon themselves to offer up their opinions on the situation. What started as a general sense of sympathy quickly turned into blaming the victim.

She shouldn’t have been so drunk. Didn’t her parents ever teach her not to walk home alone? And she certainly shouldn’t have been walking alone if she was wearing a crop top, right? Maybe she should have used a little bit of common sense.

The fact of the matter is, this situation’s outcome is the product of no one other than the person who took Graham. We can continue to have the same conversation about using common sense and the buddy system and putting rape whistles (the kind that schools like to hand out like candy) on your key ring, but where does it end?

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 73 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. Yet here we are, preaching common sense and turtlenecks and not leaving parties alone. There is no possible way that Graham could have foreseen what was going to happen to her on a Saturday like any other.

In fact, the main suspect in Graham’s case left school in 2002 because of an alleged sexual assault, in which the victim opted not to press charges … which raises the question — if we stop focusing our energy on making things hard for victims, what future tragedies like this could be avoided?

It shouldn’t be considered cavalier for a woman, an adult by legal standards, to be out drinking with friends and to decide to venture on alone in a city she is comfortable in. Walking alone should be a right, not a gamble.


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