May 16, 2017
By Jacqueline Souza
Why is it that campus rape is so stigmatized when, according to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), twenty to thirty percent of young women will be raped during her first four years of college?
Why don’t we discuss the fact that LGBTQIA and gender nonconforming students are even more likely to be assaulted than their straight, cisgender counterparts?
Why do we encourage survivors to come forward with their stories but shame themwhen they muster the courage to do so?
Time and time again, we see students come forward with their personal stories of survival. Should a sexual assault case garner the attention of the mainstream media, we instantly see a debate on the topic of consent push its way to the forefront of discussion, and the survivor’s story and experience are overshadowed by comments that find some way to blame the survivor and alleviate the rapist of all responsibility.
We often see student rapists get off with minimal consequences for their horrific behavior, usually due to their socioeconomic status, gender, athletic endeavors, or a combination of the three. In fact, the U.S.’s largest anti-sexual violence nonprofit organization RAINN reports that only one-fifth of female college students report their assault to law enforcement officials on-campus or otherwise. In the U.S. overall, it is estimated that only seven out of every one thousand rapists will ever face a felony conviction for their actions.
Recently, I sat down with a student who attends the University of Pittsburgh at its Oakland campus. The student experienced sexual assault during freshman year at the university and discussed the ways in which university officials could more effectively reach out to student survivors. “Pitt’s administration should work on actively reaching out to the student body with information on student resources, like the SHARE office and counseling center,” the student mentioned. “Like a lot of survivors, I feared reaching out to these places because I was worried that someone would report my assault without my consent. This was a misconception, and I think that the information can be conveyed to students in a way that leaves us feeling empowered, not intimidated.”
The simple fact: administrators are not adequately combatting the culture of sexual violence that plagues college campuses. It is only fair to give credit where credit is due; by law, universities are required to have both mandatory education on college sexual assault and resource offices for survivors, but these two rules only check the necessary boxes.
Dartmouth College recently mandated student education at the beginning of each academic year. Across the country, the University of California at Santa Cruz annually dedicates a week of the year to sexual assault awareness and other related issues. Students at the University of Virginia have mandated bystander intervention training, where they learn to get involved and prevent dangerous situations, even if they themselves are not victims. These colleges are doing it right; but there are more progressive ways to combat sexual violence on campus.
A few additional ideas: since fraternity men are three times as likely to commit rape than their non-Greek counterparts and perpetrators are overwhelmingly male, have sororities host Greek mixer events and parties, or eliminate fraternity housing altogether, as they are the one of the most common sites of campus rape. Since LGBTQIA students experience sexual violence at increased rates, administrators should ensure that the training curriculum promotes tolerance and clearly outlines relevant resources for those students.
To combat sexual assault, we need to destroy the part of our culture that embraces toxic masculinity and excuses sexual assault. Education and awareness can create a lasting impact on campus, but the most effective solutions involve the cooperation and action of both students and administrators. We, as students, need to have the conversation in our own circles. We need to educate one another and call out violent behavior when we see it. We need to listen to survivors and hold rapists accountable, even when they are our classmates, friends, and professors. We must individually address the ways in which we perpetuate rape culture. On each of our campuses across the country, we need to force campus faculties to answer one question: what else will you do to help us?
If you are struggling after an assault, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. To learn more about resources for survivors, go to http://www.rainn.org.
Jacqueline Souza is a former intern for the New People and currently studies sociology and journalism at the University of Pittsburgh. She is interested in racial justice, social movements, and U.S. politics.