Members of the Iowa United Nations Association (UNA), and Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa (MUAWI) teamed up to host the “Your Voice. Our Future. Open Mic Night” at the Clinton Street Social Club Wednesday, creating an open forum for community members to talk about sexual assault in Iowa City.
The night opened with a speech from University of Iowa Professor Gigi Durham, in which she discussed the fact that sexual assault affects not only the victims themselves, but everyone in the community. According to Durham, by allowing a culture that embraces the glamorization of sexual violence (as often seen in slasher movies) to grow unchecked, we have also reinforced the idea that rapists are always “deranged psychopaths,” who are easy to pick out of a crowd and prosecute.
Current Johnson County Attorney candidate John Zimmerman was also present at the event, and echoed Durham’s sentiments about the danger in assuming that all rapists look and act like the caricatures seen on TV and in movies. The majority of the time, he said, rapists are acquaintances, not strangers. These assaults often go unreported because victims fear having their stories picked apart in court. According to Zimmerman, rapists should be the ones living in fear of the justice system, not their victims.
“If someone robs a bank,” Zimmerman said, “everything focuses on trying to catch the person robbing banks. But if someone rapes someone, which has a much more lasting, life-destroying impact on the victim often, we don’t focus resources the same way. I think that is a big mistake. It’s such an old fashioned approach, to not treat an acquaintance rape like a ‘real’ rape. I am determined to do everything I can to change that if I win.”
After Durham’s opening comments, a series of performers took the mic to share their own experiences through poetry, creative fiction and music. As each performer took a turn speaking to the hushed crowd, their words and lyrics melded with the music and noise from the busy downstairs bar, giving an impression of connection between two distinct worlds. Above all else, it was a night filled with hope. Those that attended were given a chance to look forward to, and work collectively toward, a future where victim-shaming is no longer the norm. As the UNA’s media and advocacy director, Cora Metrick-Chen, pointed out in her closing speech though, we still have a long way to go.
“We’ve written inequalities out of the law, but we haven’t yet written equality into it.”
Using Wednesday’s discussion as a framework, UNA and MUAWI plan to issue a joint declaration about the state of sexual assault prevention and prosecution in the area, which they plan to distribute to various local public figures and organizations.