Sarah* graduated high school having already known the future would bring her to Santa Barbara, California. She began classes at the University of California, Santa Barbara in Fall of 2010 and began the task of building her life in a new city. The promise of a community of support offered by sorority membership enticed her to pursue, and be accepted into, one of the many sororities that are based in Isla Vista (IV) – an unincorporated area adjacent to the University campus. By Fall of 2013, Sarah had left the dormitories and moved into her sorority house. This is when the mayhem became unavoidable. The beautiful seaside location of IV masks a dangerous interior that seems to have nothing to say about its elevated violent crime rate. In many cases, women are the victims.
On the night of the Isla Vista Tragedy, I received a text message from Sarah telling me there was a shooting a block away from her. I’ve become used to these texts informing me of rapes, stabbings, and the riot
during Deltopia. My response is always the same; Get out of IV. She didn’t know many details, but she did say she was not being allowed to leave her sorority house. The following day, the news of what happened broke. It was announced that Elliott Rodger, 22
, went on a shooting spree, killing 7 and injuring 7 more. Signs are pointing to his cause for the attack being rejection by women. In the video he posted to YouTube before the rampage, Rodger describes his idea to walk into a sorority house and kill all the women present. Sheer luck placed Sarah a block away instead of in the gunman’s fire.
His desire for sexual interactions and women’s refusal to engage, made him feel as if we, as women, were withholding something with which he was entitled. Yes, it was an individual decision that Rodger made, however the notion that he was entitled to sex just because he was male is indicative of a much more wide-spread problem. Reports of rape at universities
have been on a quick rise since 2009, echoing a culture
that has fostered the concept of taking what you want despite other’s right to say “no.” This tragedy is the product of an issue that has been swept so far under the rug that the darkness surrounding it has claimed 7 more victims. A spree like this, happening just this once, is a failure by our society to raise young members with the knowledge that every person is entitled to the freedom to make their own choice about sex, even if that means they will not be having it with you.
Sarah made the two-hour drive back to her hometown to spend Memorial Day weekend with her family and friends. Here, I spoke to her briefly about the other issues brought to light by the tragedy:
Do you think that the views Elliott Rodgers expresses in his videos reflects the Isla Vista community as a whole?
It’s definitely an extremist version of it, but a lot of the ideas he’s talking about (like the anger he feels towards girls for not hooking up with him) is very much a part of the “hook-up culture,” I guess you could call it. The way men in Isla Vista act towards women is with a sense of entitlement. As a woman, you are there to be hooked up with and if you’re not okay with that [as a woman] you’re in the wrong and you’re being a bitch. Guys get angry if you don’t want to hook up with them.
In your experience, have you ever seen aggression from men who are rejected?
I’ve heard about guys yelling things like, “You’re a slut,” or, “You’re a bitch,” or “You’re being a fucking tease.” Not super often, but there is a very aggressive type of behavior that goes on a lot when you’re out in Isla Vista. Like, one time I was walking on the street and a guy just grabbed me and stuck his tongue down my throat. That just happened, and I was thinking, “What the fuck?” And it’s not that uncommon.
Do you expect to see a change in behavior when you return after this weekend, or do you think it will take something (I can’t imagine what would be) more than this?
The Elliott Rodgers shooting was definitely an isolated incident, that’s not something that happens every day in Isla Vista. But, I don’t think it’s going to change the way guys act towards girls or think about them in any way because that’s not what people are focusing on. They’re focusing on him having a mental illness and shooting a bunch of people, not on from where some of his aggression stemmed. Isla Vista has been violent for a while; we just had the riot, there are stabbings all the time, and a lot of sexual assaults. It doesn’t feel like there is a lot of progress in making it safer.
Sarah returned to Isla Visa the following Tuesday. She submitted applications for transfer earlier this year and will receive a response from the schools in early June. As her friends and family, our fingers are crossed that she will be able to leave Isla Vista. However, many students and residents cannot escape the harassment and assault they endure daily because of a belief system like Elliott Rodger’s. As a community it is, now more than ever, up to us to help protect women from people, thoughts, and events like this.
*Not actually her name. The name of her sorority is also withheld.