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Do Cosby, Kavanaugh cases make young women feel more vulnerable? | Commentary

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News went to several campuses in the city to ask young women, do you feel vulnerable around men? And have Brett Kavanaugh and Bill Cosby's constant reminders of sexual assault increased that?

Emily Womer, 21, at Temple University
Emily Womer, 21, at Temple UniversityRead moreGillian McGoldrick

Christine Blasey Ford's testimony Thursday detailed an alleged sexual assault in suburban Maryland from the early 1980s. She discussed how it changed her for the rest of her life. Incidents such as Ford described are what young women in Philadelphia universities attempt to avoid, through such protective measures as watching their drink or holding their keys to fend off an attacker.

The Inquirer and Daily News went to college campuses in the city to ask young women: Do you feel vulnerable around men? And have the Brett Kavanaugh and Bill Cosby stories increased that?

Niamh Hayes, 19, University of Pennsylvania, communication studies major

"Context is really important when thinking about whether or not I feel comfortable. I think certain settings and certain ways men carry themselves impact how I feel about them. I think I always feel a little bit wary about guys that I don't know, especially when I'm out at night. If I don't know them very well, I'm always wary about what their intentions are, as opposed to people I know really well — I don't ever feel vulnerable or anything around them. When I'm alone, I'm more aware of my surroundings. If I see a guy walking alone while I'm alone, I think always take a second. … I take in my surroundings a little bit and pause and make sure there's enough of a distance between us. I always clasp my keys. I think that's instinctual when you're by yourself. When I go out, I'm with my guy friends, so I even feel safer. … If anything happens I have these guys, they'll take care of it. It's funny how it flips like that. I feel more safe in a group with guys that I know."

Emily Schwerdt, 19, Drexel University, nursing major

"If I'm by myself I have to think of so many different other things when I see men around, as opposed to when I have a group of friends, it's lessened. I avoid all eye contact because I feel like that's a big thing. You don't look at them, you don't give them any attention. Then they can't say, 'Oh she looked at me.' I'm always with a group when I go to a party. You never go alone to a party, you never get left alone at a party unless I fully trust the guy that I was with. I feel like it's scary because they've gotten away with it for so long."

Marissa Bruette, 21, Temple University, communication studies major

"When it comes to being a woman, there's always a sense of fear. It's clearly different how men and women live their lives. A man can walk down the street at 9 o'clock at night after the sunset, and they don't have to worry. Me, when I'm coming home from a night class, I feel like I need to Facetime somebody. It's not just because I live in Philly, I would still have that sense of fear. There's always a state of vulnerability … Even if I'm Ubering alone, I feel weirded out. I'm always very aware of the conversation I'm having when I'm with a man, like you're always aware of where they're looking."

Lisa Kamara, 24, Temple University, media studies and production major

"You see the world we live in, we live in a very masculine world where no matter, guys always want us to do good but never better than them. So you really have to think about that. I can say I'm this powerful black girl, Black Girl Magic, dadada, all that jazz, but at the end of the day what does it really mean when I'm faced with my biggest opponent, which is the opposite sex? You have to think of it like how you would think of color.  We are vulnerable.  Being a female comes with a lot of rules now for the simple fact that we're females. `Oh, you can't do that, you're a female. You can't do this, you can't talk that way, you can't walk that way, you can't lift that way, you can't eat that way, you can't sleep that way.' … I got pepper spray, always. They be trying to hit on me in the back of the car. I'm from South Philly, so I don't have time for that. I don't let [Ubers] drop me off at my crib, I let them drop me off down the street and take that journey myself."

Emily Womer, 21, Temple University, global studies major

"It's weird because with men I trust, I don't feel vulnerable. However, I feel like if I don't trust them to a certain degree then, yeah, I'm always watching myself. I do find myself always looking at my drink or seeing if there are other women around me. Oftentimes, if I'm going over to a man's house for the first time, I text my friends saying, 'Hey, I'm going over to this guy's house at 10 o'clock,' just so they have an idea of where I am if anything happens. I go about my day, and I'm not assaulted, I'm fine. I talk to so many people and men, and I'm fine, but there is something constantly in the back of my head.  [Kavanaugh] is further perpetuating that idea, and therefore I feel less safe, because if he can become a Supreme Court justice after making that mistake, then it's a lot like America and senators saying, it's no big deal.  Honestly, it makes me feel better there are so many people saying this shouldn't keep happening, so we're having conversations."

Susan Kelley, 22, Drexel University, chemical engineering major

"I just think that's an unfair question. Women can also be vulnerable around other females. Whereas when we're talking about overall, women say that an unknown male is someone who is scarier than a known male, when in fact, 90 percent of rapes are by men you know. And so I think that instead of asking, am I vulnerable around a man, it's like, why aren't I more comfortable saying something? Title IX wasn't originally intended to deal with sexual assault, so why don't we have a separate place not just on Drexel but on all campuses where you should be really, really comfortable going to, that's only doing sexual assault [services], and that's its main purpose. Then you don't have things like Brock Turner."