#7 – What Can Happen in 120 Seconds

Think of something that happens every two minutes. Do you check your phone? Have a conversation with someone? Look at the clock to see how much time is left in class? Maybe. You know what also happens every two minutes? Someone is sexually assaulted. Two minutes. 120 seconds. Someone is raped.

It’s not an abstract concept. One in five women in the United States have been raped. That’s around seven people in this room. Now, that’s obviously not completely accurate – it’s a statistic. But I would bet that everyone here personally knows a victim of sexual assault, whether you know it or not.

And it’s not going to change by itself. We need to do something, because it affects us. All of us. I want you to picture your five closest friends. Now imagine how you would feel if one of them was sexually assaulted. Imagine the damage and pain it would cause them and their family. We’re not just fighting to protect some girl in a city thousands of miles from us. We’re fighting to protect our siblings, our parents, our future children. We’re fighting to protect the people we love.

But how? How do we fix this? How do we end the violence? Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer. There are so many possible approaches to this issue, and no way to cover every single one. I chose to look through the lens of the dress code.

Dress codes place too much responsibility on girls to cover their bodies, and not enough on the boys to control their actions, leading to victim blaming and the idea that men can do whatever they want. The dress codes in Vermont schools, as in other places, are also hosts to a wide variety of other issues. Besides their contribution to rape culture, they promote sexism, heteronormativity, transphobia, gender roles, body shaming, and eating disorders.

I can’t possibly cover every single problem with the dress code, but I’ll briefly discuss a few. Dress codes primarily limit the way girls dress, with hardly any restrictions for other genders. They require girls to cover their bodies so “boys won’t be distracted,” instead of teaching boys to manage their distraction, and not even considering the possibility that boys have the self control to stay focused. They assume that all boys will be staring at the girls, or assume that girls who are attracted to girls will be able to keep it together, which is either heteronormative or sexist: take your pick. They rarely acknowledge non-binary people, and often force trans people to dress as gender roles dictate they should based on the sex they were at birth. The inconsistent enforcement, with restrictions applied more harshly to larger girls, causes self consciousness and low self esteem, which can eventually result in anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

Throughout the state, students at schools such as Burlington High School and Woodstock Middle and High School have petitioned for change. They’ve put up protest signs, only to have the administration remove them. They’ve called public forums for discussion, but no change has occurred. Woodstock has been discussing the possibility of amending the dress code for about six months now, but nothing has been set in motion.

When I say change, I mean so many things. Ultimately, I would like to see the rate of rape drop to zero, the percent of people with eating disorders virtually non-existent, and the disappearance of sexism from our culture. I know that, even in the long run, that’s unlikely, if not impossible. That’s why I’m starting small. I want to see dress codes in Vermont become gender neutral and, in some cases, less restrictive. I want to see the regulations be more specific, leaving no room for teacher interpretation. I want to see that whatever code the school chooses is equally and consistently enforced. And once we make these changes, the bigger issues will begin to resolve on their own.

So I need your help. I need your help because, as much as I like to throw statistics at you, it’s not just about numbers on a piece of paper. It’s about the person who can’t close their eyes to fall asleep because their rapist’s face haunts their dreams. It’s about the person on their knees in the bathroom after every meal because they can’t stand to look at themselves in the mirror otherwise. It’s about the woman who gets sexually harassed by her male boss, but can’t speak up for fear of losing her job. It’s about the couple who can’t walk down the street holding hands without receiving hateful, homophobic comments and physical violence. It’s about the man who can’t even use the bathroom in public because no matter which one he uses, he’ll be verbally or physically assaulted. This violence, this discrimination, this hate – it’s real and it’s horrible and it needs to end. Thank you.


Anna Buteau

5 Responses to “#7 – What Can Happen in 120 Seconds

  • Anna,

    I think as you refine your pitch, I’d like to see you continue to work on better connecting the larger issue of sexual assault to the dress code. The pitch starts with a macro look of sexual assault but then zooms in really fast to dress code in Vermont schools. The same thing happens in reverse at the end of the pitch. Can you work to strengthen the connections and lengthen the transitions from sexual assault to dress code and then back again? Are there some pieces of specific evidence you can include in your pitch to show the link between the two?

    The dress code is a intriguing topic, but if you can directly link it in your pitch to the larger issues you mention it will make the pitch that much more compelling.


  • andrea lunsford
    6 years ago

    Dear Anna: Brava! I think you’ve made a much stronger connection here between dress codes and violence — good work. I especially like your focus on equity — that is on gender neutral dress codes. I would suggest stressing that a bit earlier than you do. And one other suggestion: should you introduce the topic of dress codes right up front? When I read this draft, I think that you are going to be talking about rape prevention and while you do connect the two, you need to let your readers/listeners know where you are headed early on.

    Good luck with the presentation: wish I could be there to see and hear it!


  • Hey Anna,
    Wow! This is awesome. It really gets the point across effectively. I like how you put the “Think of something that happens every two minutes.” part in there to start. It kept me reading. I also like the repetition of “It’s about the person…” in the last paragraph. I don’t really know what about it made it interesting but it’s very powerful.

    So using your advice, I read my pitch aloud and it really helped me find parts in mine that didn’t fit or flow how I wanted it to. I would recommend you do the same (if you haven’t already). It could help you in a lot of ways. And since this week is all about revising, this would be the perfect opportunity to put little details in there that would strengthen your pitch even more.

    Your pitch is great, and I know you are going to leave a mark on people’s minds at the retreat. Fantastic job! Until next time!


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