Understanding Sexual Assault
As a young, female student on a college campus, I should be excited about my classes, my extracurricular opportunities, my friends. I should not have to constantly remember, in my interactions with members of the opposite sex, that one in five women experience sexual assault. Taking this statistic roughly and focusing exclusively on assaults towards women, that means that over ten percent of each class has experienced sexual assault upon graduation. The sheer immensity of reported sexual assaults (the real number is much higher, because many women are afraid, embarrassed or unable to report them) is demonstrative of a structural deficiency in terms of how women remain to be treated (or mistreated) in today’s society.
So what do we do,now that we have this number of women who have their lives irrevocably damaged by an incident of sexual assault? Colleges have started revising the way sexual assault reports are treated at each school, as there has been a history of poor response and mishandling of these, most delicate cases. President Obama and the White House have launched “It’s on Us”, a self described awareness program dedicated to ending sexual assault on college campuses. Individual colleges have students participate in programs, both online and during orientation activities which thoroughly discuss and inform students how not to engage in or further sexual assault on campus. These are activities and movements which are vitally important to promoting awareness and prevention of as well as adequate response to sexual violence, but they are lacking.
There is an unhealthy pattern of shifting blame on different variables to reason out why sexual assault occurs on campus. The whole approach towards sexual aggression tries to oversimplify the problem. Greek life in schools is blamed for a rise in assaults, especially because of the often unhealthy, alcohol ridden social interactions during fraternity and sorority rush season. People point their fingers at underage drinking and alcohol abuse at parties,with an emphasis on being unable to truly consent when drunk. The red zone, or the period between the beginning of school to fall break when quite a number of sexual assaults happen, is reasoned as occurring because of a mix between female vulnerability upon entering a new environment and sorority rushes across campuses.
Not even a combination of all of these factors can appropriately explain the disturbingly large amount of sexual assault cases reported on campus. Liberal arts colleges, many of which have completely banned Greek life, report some of the highest numbers of sexual assault. Although alcohol accounts for around 50% of assaults, the other 50% occur when both assailant and victim are completely sober. A change in environment, ensuing confusion and vulnerability and rushing for a sorority do not somehow combine into promoting an all year high of rape and abuse.
People try to ignore the fact that the treatment and placement of women in today’s society is less than ideal. We know that women are still objectified and as such, disrespected. There is still a significant wage gap between women and men and many professions, such as law and medicine, are dominated by males. The majority of reported sexual assaults are perpetrated by men against women. A double standard still exists with regards to sexual promiscuity (among a multiplicity of other situations), with men being praised and women shamed for multiple sexual conquests. These too contribute to the college rape pandemic, but are oft ignored in favour of the more easily addressable and visible components such as rushing and drinking.
As we begin to address the underlying causes of college sexual assault as women, we must also examine our own roles as traditional victims both in scenarios of assault and in society as a whole.
Artist: Jeffrey Wang