After the onslaught of lawsuits brought against major universities by rape victims who accused them of failing to adhere to Title IX, the President commissioned a task force to see what the hell is going on at our institutions of higher education. What they found was campuses are failing horribly at reporting and preventing sexual assault. Major problems include campuses not taking these cases to the police, but instead handling it internally, not addressing claims in a timely manner, not having adequate services for victims, and having little to no attempts at prevention. For those interested, the White House’s recommendations can be found here. While I strongly agree with the plan that has been laid out by the President, I would like to go a step further and talk about some of the reasons why sexual assault is so prevalent on campus and what I think we can do to stop it.
The first problem is money.
While most universities and colleges are technically non-profit, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t trying to make money. The NFL is non profit, people. What universities seem to want the most, is to recruit the best and the brightest out of high school to come and spend a boatload of cash on their education. And for exceptional students, it’s a buyer’s market. Because of this, schools want to appear as attractive as possible. You know what’s not attractive to smart young women? The thought of being raped on campus. So, universities tend to vastly under report their own rape statistics. Now, this might not be completely purposeful, it could also have to do with a lack of reporting by victims who are afraid to come forward out of fear of retribution or being told they are lying. Regardless, rape often tends to get swept under the rug. This is where the President’s recommendations come in. Not only are they going to help campuses conduct anonymous surveys in order to get a better picture of rape on campus, they are also going to help create a better judiciary way to handle rape cases on campus, so victims won’t have to worry about being re-victimized if they try to press charges against their rapist.
The second problem is dry campuses.
While in theory a dry campus is a parent’s wet dream, in practice it’s a perfect storm for sexual assault, particularly against women. You see, a dry campus prevents students from drinking on campus property, regardless of age. As someone who has attended both a dry and a wet campus, I can tell you that the for the safety of students, a wet campus is vastly superior. If you are on a wet campus you have the ability to drink in your dorm room with people you trust. Your room is right there if you want to call it a night and lock your door, that is always an option. On a dry campus, drinking becomes a tricky balance of risk management. Young women especially must chose either to risk an institutional action, which can have serious consequences on future careers, or risk assault. If a young woman on a dry campus wants to get drunk she must go off campus, this either means walking (and risking exposure in the winter) or driving (and risk not being sober enough to drive home). Now after making that choice, she must decide where to go. Again this is a question of safety. The most common places for college parties are fraternity houses, or houses occupied by male athletes. Because of reasons, no sorority is allowed to have their own parties with alcohol, and female athletes always seem to have to abide by must stricter rules when it comes to substances. So they have to rely on men, who may or may not be predators. I’m not trying to say that all fraternity men are awful or rapists, for goodness sake I married one, but there’s always those few houses on campus with a reputation. Also, if you aren’t close friends with someone in the house, or understand clearly how the greek system works (like to ask for the sober bro if someone is in trouble) you are on your own to try and stay safe. So again, either you can go to a wet campus and not have to worry about any of that and just drink with close friends in your room, OR you can go to a party at a guy’s house with a bunch of people you don’t know, and oh yeah there are about 20 bedrooms there, it’s dark, the music is loud, and you have no reliable way of getting home while intoxicated. You tell me which type of university you’d rather have your daughter at?
The third problem is a lack of education.
While in general as society we have been good about saying rape is bad, we haven’t been good about saying what rape is. Rape is sexual contact without consent. Many young adults don’t understand exactly what consent means. Not consenting can be so much more than just the word “no”. College students, and particularly college men, need to understand that being passed out drunk is the same thing as no, so is stop, I don’t want to, not right now, get off of me, or just straight up freezing. Unfortunately we have had this fascination with the word no, and it has lead to tunnel vision. People need to learn to talk to their partners before engaging in anything and making sure each of them wants it. Make it a game, make it sexy, make it a part of a strip tease, however you want to do it, make sure you get consent. Along with knowing what consent is and isn’t, students need to not be bystanders. Remember as kids when we were told, “if you see something, say something”? The same applies here. If you see someone pressuring someone else for sex, or taking someone back to their room who is clearly not able to consent, step up! By doing so, you could literally be saving that person’s life. Check out this PSA* from The White House, which addresses the importance of not being a bystander:
I sincerely hope that The White House’s efforts will make a real dent in the problem of sexual assaults on college campuses across the country. 1 in every 5 college women will be raped during their time on campus, 4% of college men will have been assaulted before or during their years on campus. And to me, that’s far far too many.
*Yes I realize the PSA is focused on rapes that are committed by men against women. Obviously this is not the only type of assault, although statistically it is the most common. I hope in the future there will be more PSAs that will highlight the trauma of all rapes, regardless of the gender of the victim or the assailant.