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The U.S. Department of Justice released a list of schools they are investigating for violations of Title 9, the law that protects women’s rights on college campuses. The investigation centers around the schools’ failure to provide a safe environment for women on campuses by not protecting women from sexual assaults on campus. Campus sexual assaults are occurring at epidemic proportions. By the time any class graduates college, 1 in 4 women will have been raped; that means 25 percent of 22-year-old women have been raped. To make matters worse, only 40 percent of these sexual assaults will be reported to authorities and only 10 percent of the crimes will lead to an arrest[1]. So what can be done to stop sexual assaults on campus?

To begin, we need to understand where the culture of rape on college campuses comes from. Let us start with the issue that is everyone’s go to problem when bad things happen to college students: partying and substance abuse. Substance abuse on campus is widely known to be wide spread and a major problem for all colleges and universities. We all know what goes on at frat parties, dorms, and house parties at college. There is an old saying from my college days, ”there is a time and a place for everything, and it’s college”. Statements heard over the years usually referring to substance abuse and sex. Drugs and alcohol are absolutely a major factor because 1 in 3 perpetrators of sexual assaults are intoxicated in some.* However being only 1 in 3 sexual assaults can be contributed to intoxication*, its clearly the problem is much deeper then a bunch of drunk and high kids.

I believe that all rapes are the result of males in our society having a warped view of sexuality, women, and women’s bodies. This warped view is shaped by many things including media, pornography, and peers. Women are portrayed as sex objects. We airbrush women to be this unrealistic figure that doesn’t look anything like the real person in the photo. These messages we send teaches boys, that women’s bodies are objects for their sexual gratification rather a part of a person who needs to be respected.

At the same time, women are taught to repress their sexual urges or suffer the pains of being marginalized socially. Our culture enforces the notion of female purity and chastity with open and widespread bigotry called “slut shaming”. We see slut shaming all the time on TV, in our communities and schools, and just about anywhere else you can think of. An example of slut shaming in the media is how Miley Cirus, Brittany Spears, Kim Kardashian, and Lindsey Lohan have been portrayed by the tabloids. We need to start seeing slut, skank, whore, bitch, ho, or any other slut shaming words as harmful hate speech. This language can be heard walking down the hall of any middle or high school in this country and is seen as normal as hearing the school bell.

So how does ‘slut shaming’ contribute to the rape culture on college campuses around the country? It is the backbone of the rape culture in colleges and universities. We are grooming our children to have no respect for women, women’s bodies, boundaries, or other people’s sexuality. ‘Slut shaming’ ultimately shapes the societal view of a woman and sets the stage for the rapist mentality of “no” being just a suggestion, rather than an absolute red light like the emergency stop on an elevator. ‘Slut shaming’ also affects the victim by creating shame and guilt about sex. The fear of being ‘slut shamed’ is a real fear and often leads women to stay silent about their attacks. ‘Slut shaming’ also causes people to shame and blame the victim if they report the crime. We have come to see rape victims with a level of suspicion.

For example, we have seen cases where a famous rich man gets accused of sexual assault and in his defense it is often said that the girl was looking for money. We hear statements such as “look what she was wearing she was asking for trouble”, or “what was she doing drinking at a frat house alone?” We never bother to ask, why can’t women drink at a frat house and not get raped. Why must women avoid a certain dress because someone may get the wrong idea? This is why so many rapes are not reported and women suffer in silent self-blame while their rapist runs free. This, in return, sends the message to the boys that they won’t get caught. So this must mean rape is no big deal. This is the crux of the issue in rape cultures on colleges and universities in the United States.

So what can be done to change the culture of rape on college campuses? For starters, before a student starts their first semester at any college or university they should be required to attend a class on issues related to sexual assault, boundaries, and boundary setting. The faculty, administration and staff should be required each fall to attend rape sensitivity training, in order to better handle reports from victims. Campuses need to provide counseling support programs, and safe places for women to go if they are sexual assaulted. All female students should be required to attend a rape prevention and reporting class to help female students learn to keep themselves safe and what to do if the unthinkable happens. Often rapes are left unreported because women simply do not know where they can safely go after an attack. We need to make the reporting of these crimes empowering, not constant re-traumatization of the victim. Lastly, education relative to boundaries and respect for women and their bodies needs to start at the earliest ages. We need to raise our boys to respect a woman’s body and respect boundaries.

If all campuses put in place these kind of programs and policies, if we improve the prosecution and protect both reporters and victims I believe that we would see a reduced rate of sexual assault on campus. Male students would know that no means no, and respect that. Women would feel reporting rape is the empowered therapeutic route to take. Lastly, these programs will help raise awareness at the minimum. Often that is all it takes to make change.

[1] Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (2009). Statistics.

David Fishman

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