It’s time to take action to prevent rape and sexual assault

By Brittany Schrager || Contributing Writer

We are experiencing an epidemic of rape and sexual assault on college campuses. This epidemic is not new. Sexual assault has always occurred on college campuses, it was simply never talked about. What is new is that survivors of sexual assault are now speaking out.

Two of us were sexually assaulted before classes even started. It was at a party… I got pulled outside, banged my head against a wall, and was raped. He grabbed my hair and slammed my head against the bathroom tile, it didn’t stop. I couldn’t move, I could hear laughter outside the door, people dancing… Does nobody see me? When you’re scared, when you don’t know what’s happening to you, you just stay there and hope you don’t die.”

At colleges throughout the U.S., when survivors of sexual assault have told college administrators they were raped, responses have frequently been inadequate: “rape is like a football game and if you look back on the game, what would you do differently; I just want to make sure you don’t tell anyone about this; I suggest you drop out until everything blows over.” Responses to sexual assault also often involve victim blaming.

Colleges have made progress and new programs have been implemented to address sexual assault, but more must be done. In order to stop campus rape, we as a nation must address and mitigate the issues that encourage a culture of sexual violence and silence assault victims. Statistically, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men will be sexually assaulted while in college. Furthermore, it is extremely common for people who commit rape to have other rape charges or allegations against them. The 2014 White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault has put several schools across the country on notice to be investigated for their record on responding to sexual assaults. Schools have improved some of their current policies, but overall have not improved the general campus atmosphere or the ways in which reports of sexual assault are handled. Schools are only legally required to disclose reported incidents of sexual assault, and it is believed that more than half of rape victims in college do not report their assaults. Students may be too scared to report assaults because of the doubt and blame other students who reported have have received in the past. Consequently, college administrations are creating the presumption that rape crimes will not be properly handled.

In addition, many universities ignore the problem of sexual assault on campus. The Huffington Post reports that less than one third of college students found guilty of sexual assaults were expelled. Even though dozens of college administrators and attorneys agree, “someone who rapes another student should be expelled,” in four cases at the University of Kansas, Michigan State University, and the University of Toledo, a student was found guilty of sexual assault but was not expelled from the college. Colleges with prestigious reputations portray their campuses as safe and where rule-breakers are punished.  So, when individuals call the campus unsafe, often college’s rush to protect their reputations rather than investigating claims of assault. Colleges say they want to protect their students, but many administrations are not willing to damage their reputations in order to change the current system.

Social stigma that leads to disgust and thus victim blaming is another element that impinge on culpability and perpetuate rape culture. There is a tendency to hold victims partly responsible for the rape, implying that they could have prevented it themselves. The common stigma placed on victims are “boys will be boys; she asked for it; she should have fought him off; and girls cannot rape guys.”

It is important to note that legal consent is saying “yes” to someone, and that consent cannot be given while intoxicated. Moreover, only about two percent of reported rape cases are actually false and more than half of victims do not report the event. However, because the stigma surrounding secual assault is so powerful, individuals can perpetuate rape culture by doubting or dismissing victims.

Although these problems persist, there are signs of improvement. The Obama Administration created the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, a group aimed at improving the way sexual assault is handled at both the federal and national levels. This program increases the number of resources available to universities when dealing with sexual assault. Officials in the University of California system have used these resources to install a sexual assault advocate at each of the 23 campuses across California. Similarly, Amherst College has taken responsibility for the inhospitable atmosphere on their campus and has promised to implement new policies to aid survivors. F&M has made progress as well; the College has created numerous committees to help spread awareness of sexual assault, implement new policies, and improve the treatment of survivors.

Our country is moving in the right direction, but the stigma surrounding sexual assault still exists. Though colleges have begun to accept responsibility for their actions, survivors are still treated unfairly. The continued victimization of survivors and victim blaming deter reporting of sex crimes. These stigmas do nothing to create a hospitable atmosphere on college campuses. This atmosphere was recently exposed both in abhorrent racist comments and threats of rape on social media. Although the two may seem unrelated, when you encourage discrimination in one form, you move the line of what is socially acceptable. Is F&M really doing enough? Are we proud of the progress we have made?

In order to bring about positive change, students, faculty, and the administration must reject the current stigma surrounding sexual assault and stop victim blaming. This is a large order, but at F&M it is not only possible to accept one another, dispense with prejudices, and head towards righteousness, it is about time.

Junior Brittany Schrager is a contributing writer. Her email is bschrage@fandm.

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