By Matthew DeMello
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
It is difficult to tell when exactly, but in the last year or so, the issue of rape on college campuses in America began receiving more attention than ever before. Whether it is an appropriately increased sensitivity toward sexual assault in our culture overall, or as an opportunity for the NRA to ‘empower’ women to use firearms to protect themselves, those who have been fighting this fight for decades couldn’t be more energized than right now.
Just a month ago, President Barack Obama launched a White House task force to place pressure on colleges and universities to do their part in both preventing and policing sexual assault on campuses. In 2014, all the necessary pieces of social change are in place to, hopefully, make disastrous rates of college rape a thing of the past.
“Unfortunately, until now colleges have never been asked, ‘What are you doing to combat rape on campus?’” writes a representative from the End Rape On Campus (EROC) to BTR. “In 2013, however, we saw a huge number of students exposing this epidemic to the public.”
In hard-partying dorm rooms across the country, a culture of intoxicated hookups and “blurred lines” have kept millions of victims powerless and their cases unanswered for decades. According to the Department of Justice, while one in three women experience sexual assault at some point in their lives, one fifth to one quarter of college-age women will face assault while pursuing their bachelor’s degree. As more than half of those victims never report these incidents, justice for such a gruesome and abhorrent act is hardly, if ever, served.
The report released by the White House Council on Women and Girls, and presented at the induction ceremony for the aforementioned task force, showed that trend is unfortunately far more prevalent than stereotype may suggest. Not only are victims often abused while incapacitated at college parties, but one-time perpetrators are a minority as two thirds of assailants interviewed said they had committed sexual assault six times on average.
In addition to educating potential victims on how to avoid sexual assault, universities are now expected to spend resources reminding potential assailants of the consequences. In the larger cultural shift that now views rape as a crime of consequence on par with the worst kind of interpersonal violence, a new wave of advocacy groups has sprung to place greater responsibility on men to prevent sexual violence.
As President Obama sternly warned at the ceremony introducing his new task force on college rape, “I want every young man in America to feel some strong peer pressure in terms of how they are supposed to behave and treat women.”
As an empowered and egalitarian young generation ascends to the halls of academia, they remain committed steadfast to values of consent and personal choice. Administrations of universities everywhere who value their public relations and admissions rates are now finding they need to have a comprehensive plan to address rape, and one that corresponds to the narrow psychological corners of a deeply misunderstood issue.
Partial myths about sexual assault, such as the ‘stranger in the night,’ are beginning to dissipate, as advocates propose real solutions to the ‘acquaintance rape’ (in which the attacker is someone already known to the victim) that constitutes 90 percent of assaults on campuses. Proven measures such as primary prevention and bystander intervention education are mobilizing even those who may not see themselves as likely victims to be their neighbor’s keeper, and in some cases, their sterling guardian.
Tracey E. Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) believes the best foundation for prevention is assertive jurisprudence on behalf of college administrations.
“Colleges and universities need to have strong sexual assault policies and procedures that are transparent, easily accessible, and consistently implemented,” says Vitchers. “A strong written policy that is not easily accessible to students or implemented consistently will not support survivors or prevent sexual violence.”
Just how effective are colleges at establishing and implementing such policies? SAFER’s Campus Accountability Project reviewed 300 campus policies on sexual assault, finding only 12.3 percent included primary prevention programming, while 17.2 mandated any awareness programs for all students. Further, only 55 percent included emergency contraception to survivors, with only 9.7 percent at no cost.
Yet while a class of students appears determined to leading the charge against this epidemic, the hope is that these numbers will not remain so scant for much longer.
The EROC writes, “These programs, however, cannot be successful and powerful until colleges and universities enhance the accommodation and support of survivors, as well as clarifying their judicial responses to all forms of discriminatory crime.”