The earliest rendition of “Sleeping Beauty” culminated not in a chaste kiss, but in a violent deflowering. That historical and literary insight will be one of many presented at the Interdisciplinary and International Conference on Sexual Violence, hosted by Virginia Tech today and Saturday, April 15-16.
“Sexual violence has persisted throughout millennia, but its social and legal constructs have evolved across time and across cultures,” said Brett Shadle, an associate professor in the Department of History. “By taking an interdisciplinary approach, we’re hoping to understand sexual violence in new ways. That’s important because any attempt to combat sexual violence demands a nuanced unpacking of the meanings of rape.”
Shadle co-organized the conference along with Sharon Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literature. The conference originated as part of a course on sexual violence they are teaching through the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought, an interdisciplinary doctoral program in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
After issuing their call for academic papers, Shadle and Johnson said they were surprised by the number — and geographic reach — of the submissions. Scholars from as far away as India, Denmark, and Wales will present at the conference.
“People don’t like to talk about rape, but when you pay attention, you notice its ubiquity in history, war, media, and popular culture,” said Shadle. “We expect the international perspectives and range of disciplinary approaches at the conference to enrich our conversations, all with the goal of learning how to stop the violence.”
Shadle noted that in planning the conference the organizers sought to ensure that the discussions will reflect unflinching reality as well as scholarly exploration, as sexual violence affects members of the Virginia Tech community as well as people worldwide.
The conference will open today with sessions on Trans* and Title IX sexual violence, textual renderings, legal issues, and the treatment of rape survivors.
A panel discussion will follow this evening. As part of the panel, Catherine Jacquet, an assistant professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Louisiana State University, will present “‘Everyone Has a Tiger Inside of Her’: The Rhetoric of Resistance in 1970s Feminist Anti-Rape Activism.” Thomas Foster, a professor of history at DePaul University, will present, “The Rape of Rufus? Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Enslaved Men,” and R. M. Douglas, a distinguished university professor of history at Colgate University, will discuss, “The Rape of Men in War: What We Know and What We Don’t.”
The conference will conclude Saturday with additional sessions on rape in fanfiction, media, and advertising; war crimes; and spectacles of sexual violence.
The conference is open to the public, although participants are asked to read papers in advance of the sessions other than the plenary. (Contact Shadle to receive those papers.) The complete schedule is available on the Department of History website.
The conference is sponsored by the Dean’s Advisory Committee on International Initiatives at the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences; the Alliance for Social, Political, Ethical, and Cultural Thought; University Honors; the Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention; the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies; the Women’s Center at Virginia Tech; the Institute for Society, Culture and Environment; Women and Gender Studies; the Residential College at West Ambler Johnston; and the departments of English, Foreign Languages and Literatures, History, Human Development, Political Science, Psychology, Religion and Culture, and Sociology.