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Activist’s Speech Covers Sexual Attitudes, Rape

Koestner Shares Own Story, Attacks Sexist Humor

By Brett Altschul


On Friday morning, freshmen and transfer students gathered in Kresge Auditorium to hear Katie Koestner, an activist and date rape victim, speak about sexual attitudes and rape.

A woman who has been raped needs three kinds of help, Koestner said: medical, which must occur within three days of the rape if evidence is to be collected; legal; and counseling.

Koestner proceeded to talk in detail about her own rape, which occurred during her first semester at William and Mary College. On her first serious date in college, her boyfriend pressured her to have sex and raped her when she refused.

She discussed the important role played by a rape victim’s friends and family -- providing direct support and help in getting professional assistance.

In her case, Koestner said, she got little support. She was vilified on the William and Mary campus for speaking out against the wealthy, popular man who raped her. At the same time, she was alienated from her father, who disapproved of her behavior in the events leading up to the rape.

Koestner called on all the men in the audience to “stand up in the middle of MIT and say, ‘Rape is wrong.’”

“It’s really because of you men that I’m here today,” she said. “While not all men are rapists, most rapists are men.”

She attacked sexist humor and other insensitive behavior she had seen in men across the United States. With these things going on, how can men develop the “respect for women that they need in order to build a world without rape?” she asked.

Activist Faces Audience Questions

After her presentation, Koestner took questions from the audience. The first questioner directed his question to the men in the audience, asking them to immediately stand and denounce rape, as Koestner had suggested.

Nearly all the men in Kresge did stand, to thunderous applause from the women in the audience. Koestner thanked the men and admonished them to continue opposition to an atmosphere tolerant of date rape.

Another questioner asked Koestner about how she would suggest dealing with situations similar to that faced by Julia M. Carpenter ’03, who took her own life after Institute authorities failed to properly respond to a harassment complaint she filed.

Koestner declined to answer the question, claiming lack of familiarity with Carpenter’s case and insufficient expertise in dealing with cases that do not involve rape.

After the talk, the incoming students returned to their Orientation groups, and discussed their reactions to the talk over lunch.

Koestner an experienced crusader

Over the last decade Koestner has been a major figure in the movement to recognize date rape as a serious societal problem.

She was featured in the cover of Time in June 1991, and HBO produced a television movie about her rape and the subsequent events. Since she began speaking publicly about her experiences, Koestner has spoken to hundreds of thousands of students at over 800 institutions.