University Rape

We recently had a comment on our Facebook page asking for our opinion on an article that asks its readers if college rankings [could] solve the campus rape crisis.

In light of this topic, you may be asking yourself if university rape is actually a current crisis. I have asked myself the same thing, since I am currently a university student and have never felt threatened on campus. Unfortunately, rape seems to be a very troubling reality in post-secondary schools- it just doesn’t take usually happen in the way we  tend to picture.

When people picture sexual assault the first thing to pop into their head is still the image of the scary outsider, attacking young girls while they are out for a jog. This is sometimes the case. Last year a young woman at my school was attacked while jogging; she escaped after kicking her attacker in the groin. Likewise, at UBC police presence has been increased after a series of attacks on campus.

Unfortunately, most rapists are not random scary strangers. They are drunk boyfriends, or members of your dorm, or just a date that “went wrong”. According to a survey by the Canadian Federation of Students, “4 out of 5 female undergraduate students said they had been victims of violence in dating relationships.”  Likewise, the Canadian Sexual Assault Centre reports that date rape accounts for 60% of all reported sexual assault cases. In another survey, 60% of Canadian college-aged males indicated they would commit sexual assault if they were certain they would not get caught.

American statistics are just as disconcerting, with nearly 25% of all women experiencing a completed and/or attempted rape during their college career. Not to mention the even higher rates of sexual assault against the LGBT community. According to a recent studymore than 42 percent of students who identified as being LGBT reported being forced to have sex against their will.

We can probably all agree that sexual abuse is a huge issue, but how much responsibility should fall on the school organization? Well, I think that falls into two parts.

Part I – Proper Care For Victims.

Not long ago I came across a post in the Harvard Crimson titled “Dear Harvard, you win” where a young women shares about her experience battling University administration following her experience of sexual assault on campus. I’ve shared the first few paragraphs of the piece for you below.

“I’m writing this piece as I’m sitting in my own dining hall, only a few tables away from the guy who pressured me into sexual activity in his bedroom, one night last spring. My hands are trembling as they hover across the keyboard. I’m exhausted from fighting for myself. I’m exhausted from sending emails to my resident dean, to my House Master, to my Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment tutors, to counselors from the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, to my attorney. I’m exhausted from asking for extensions because of ‘personal issues.’ I’m exhausted from avoiding the laundry room, the House library and the mailroom because I’m scared of who I will run into.

More than anything, I’m exhausted from living in the same House as the student who sexually assaulted me nine months ago.

I’ve spent most of 2013 fighting the Harvard administration so that they would move my assailant to a different House, and I have failed miserably.”

Unfortunately, Harvard isn’t the only University to try to under-exaggerate rape cases. A 2013 article by Salon offers seven different examples of how universities and colleges have tried to downplay rape that occurs on campus. This is obviously an issue universities need to start taking more seriously.

In light of the article I mentioned way up top, I feel that rating universities on their response to reports of sexual assault could give students a better idea of how seriously they will treat student safety.

Part II – Prevention Through Education

In my first year I attended a conference (at a different university) where a young Anthropology student was sharing some first-hand research she had done on undergraduates and condom use. What had begun for her as a look at contraceptives in university culture led her to discover the darker repercussions of our understanding of sex. She explained that the majority of women she interviewed told her that the men they were intimate with generally expected birth control to be the woman’s prerogative. One consequence of this was less discussion about the details of sex leading up to the act. By not discussing where each party stood, the male party in a heterosexual “hook up” would often assume that lack of discussion ultimately meant yes.

According to many of the women who took part in her study, their rapists didn’t even realize the sex had been non-consensual.

By presenting rapists as the unidentifiable other we’ve created a double bind where no perpetrator can admit what they did was wrong, without being framed as non-human.

Also, the environment where we learn about sex is often detached from the environment where sex actually takes place. As John Kalin mentions at approximately 8:44 in his TED Talk, “Re-thinking Sexual Assault Prevention in High Schools and College”, we need to make consent a relevant topic in the places where connect isn’t currently happening. 

If universities are where high levels of sexual 
assault are happening, then they need to be where we are discussing what consensual sex looks like. Healthy dialogue is key. If you are communicating while being intimate (i.e. asking each other questions about what is okay and what is not) then neither party should be able to look back on the situation and say they were uncomfortable. 

It’s also important to clearly define what constituted non-consensual sex, which is something I feel like a variety of social campaigns have done a fairly good job representing.

When it comes to rating schools according to their commitment to consent focused sexual education, however, I think it can only be affective if it is applied in tandem with my first point. It’s pointless for universities to promote consent as a necessary part of any sexual relationship if they continue to overlook sexual assault that takes place on (or because of an association with) campus.

Ultimately, I think rating universities about their willingness/ability to deal with sexual assault is a fantastic idea, and I can only hope this kind of motion is brought forward here to Canada as well.

Until then I guess I will just have to be satisfied with smaller scale attempts to stigmatize the lack of consent that many people somehow still seem to be finding ambiguous.

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