Rape Culture on College Campuses

When people think about college culture what often comes to mind is positive: opportunity, challenges and fun along the way. The media portrays this utopian college experience: living in dorms, strolling through a beautiful campus to class and going out to bars with friends with the only worry being the massive workload college presents. But this isn’t realistic. Hanging over students everyday is a worry for their safety that is not nearly discussed enough. College students live in a bubble of rape culture that presents itself in our everyday lives even though we don’t always notice it: the music we listen to that diminishes women to objects; the catcalling on the street that is so clearly not a compliment but a form of intimidation; the movies that tell us waking up in a stranger’s bed and not knowing what happened is a comical scenario that happens all the time in college; fraternities with signs at the beginning of the school year saying “Freshman Daughter Drop Off”; trying to get someone drunk enough so you can “get lucky.” Is it really all just a harmless part of the college experience? What really perpetuates rape culture unfortunately is the way that we try to prevent rape, what colleges do for victims, and the punishment for rapists.

Parents send their daughters off to college warning them to watch their drinks and never walk alone at night to prevent rape, but why don’t we eliminate the more direct cause: rapists. Colleges need to make more of an effort to better educate students about consent, rather than teaching students to be defensive. Jill from the local rape crisis center comes into college classes and teaches students about consent in a straightforward and non-accusatory fashion. During the lecture, some of the most masculine, tatted up, criminology major guys in my class were so open to talking about rape culture and in that moment I wished so badly that every freshman in college could receive her lecture. I told her how much I enjoyed her lecture and the two of us got coffee. I was able to hear some of the struggles she has had educating college students on the subject. “I have gone to frat houses to give talks and I will never forget the guy who said to me totally seriously ‘Yeah so like I guess hoes don’t deserve to be raped either.’” Clearly education is desperately needed.

Another piece of the puzzle when it comes to discussing rape culture is the way that colleges are treating rape survivors. Often the first attempt to report for all victims of rape is one of blame, disbelief and discouragement from reporting and this is no different on most college campuses. Colleges are businesses. How will a high number of rape reports sell to perspective students and the parents of those students? According to AAUW, 91% of colleges reported ZERO rape incidents in 2014. That statistic is absurd considering 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college. What the discrepancy reveals is the vast majority of sexual assaults are going unreported. In turn many of those victims are not receiving proper counseling, living accommodations, justice, etc. Schools have many ways in which they allow each rape report to fall through the cracks. For example, advising the victim to not report, victim blaming, protecting the perpetrator (a common occurrence with athletes), not properly informing victims that reporting to a counselor is not an official report are a few. Using trickery to benefit the school financially instead of caring for the well being of a student when they have been through a traumatic experience is sickening.

Finding justice for a sexual assault victim gets even bleaker when you look at how colleges take action in terms of punishment. Sentencing for rapists has been a hot topic in the media recently with Brock Turner’s three month sentencing in addition to being expelled from Stanford. Sadly, this is considered a harsher punishment than many other assailants receive. Universities do not always expel students found guilty of rape from campus; they may choose to suspend them or use alternative punishments. For the victim, this means that there is a very real possibility of running into or having to deal with their perpetrator on campus on a regular basis.

In an ideal future, changes will be made within colleges across the country to end the current rape culture. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is considering de-funding the Violence against Women Act (VAWA), which funds many of the resources available to women. Therefore new policy to help this issue in the next four years does not look promising. I don’t have a grand solution to the rape issue that’s been created or the criminal justice system issues, because it should be a common sense solution. Ways to take action include spreading awareness by educating others, protesting, calling your senators office and/or volunteering.

A person who becomes a victim of sexual assault should have the choice of how they wish to move forward and not be pushed into anything. But if the assault has happened within about 96 hours or 4 days the survivor does have the option to go to the hospital for free evidence collection and STI antibiotics. The best thing you can do for someone who comes to you saying they have been assaulted is to believe them. If you or someone you know becomes a victim and wishes to file a report, make a case, pursue counseling or needs any other resources reaching out to your college is an option but it is not the only option if it does not seem to be helpful. The Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio (SARNCO) provides a 24 hour hotline if you need to talk or need information on resources from recovery books to counseling and legal help (614-267-7020).

-Elizabeth Passino

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