My primary goals in the Daniel Jacobus series have been to write entertaining stories, provide a glimpse into the multi-faceted world of classical music, and give lay readers a good beginners’ listening list of some of the world’s greatest music. I’ve generally shied away from wading into political or broad social issues. When I started writing Spring Break I knew it was going to take place in a music conservatory and that a murder would be committed over some bone of contention, of which there are enough to make complete skeletons. I hadn’t determined who the victim or murderer would be, or the motive.
But as I worked through my rough draft, those question marks became exclamation points as, one after another, institutions of higher education became the subject of front-page headlines in highly publicized cases of sexual violence on their campuses. It didn’t matter whether it was a major Ivy League university or a church-administered one. Sexual harassment remains a doggedly tenacious epidemic in our general culture, and no less so on college campuses where, literally, one is presumed to know better. With the setting of Spring Break already established, I felt compelled to address this issue head on.
When drunken frat boys and campus sports heroes rape female students, we wring our hands but chalk it up to bad upbringing or aberrant behavior or extra testosterone or the reason-numbing effects of binge drinking. We decry it but can, to some degree, understand it. But when such crimes are committed by revered university professors, how do we explain that away? Misunderstandings? If a professor can’t discern the difference between right and wrong, who can? Is it that difficult?
We are now engaged in a raging national debate regarding sexual misconduct that goes far beyond the college campus. High-profile men in the entertainment industry, in the media, in government, have been outed for sexual misconduct ranging from an unwanted kiss to pathological pedophilia. Even this is but the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, sexual misconduct in the workplace – in offices, in hotels, in factories, in athletics, in the armed forces – has yet to be fully exposed. And it goes even beyond the workplace. Women do not feel safe from harassment or being groped simply walking down the street, sitting in a bus, or going to a park.
When students and former students have come to me with stories of being victimized by members of my profession, the most important thing I can do is help them regain their ability –which has been so violently compromised – to trust someone, anyone. I try to provide that trust and support. In a society that has no difficulty talking about violence but is unable to openly discuss sex, especially sexual predation, it is no wonder that women are only now coming forward and with such difficulty and with such courage.
We cringe in disgust when Catholic priests are exposed for abusing children. We are outraged when male-dominated cultures of so-called Third World countries relegate women to second-class status. We recoil in horror when marauding mercenaries in Africa rape women as their reward and as a tool to terrorize the populace into submission. Why is it, then, in our supposedly advanced democracy, we’ve continued to tolerate sexual violence throughout our society, and more specifically in Spring Break, on college campuses? To claim we haven’t tolerated it is simply denying reality. The abuse persists, administrations continue to place the prestige of their universities ahead of the well-being of their own students, and the justice system continues to bend over backwards to protect the rights of the accused to the point of victimizing the victims. Why is it we do not demand change? Is it because we’re in a state of denial that ‘the greatest country in the world’ may be no better than the lowest of the low? I don’t really have answers to those questions. I wish I did, but what I at least can do in Spring Break is provide food for thought, and hope that sharing the message will help advance a constructive dialogue for change. Gerald Elias
Click here for more information on SPRING BREAK and PLAYING WITH FIRE, both in the Daniel Jacobus mystery series.