Breaking The Silence: The Battle To End Rape Culture on Campuses

This post is for every girl, and every guy, who was ever assaulted at his/her university, and never got to see justice.  You are not alone.

Stanford University is one of the best schools in the United States.  It’s beautiful, incredibly well-respected, difficult to get into.  There are many things about Stanford that are unique, and given that I don’t attend school there, I probably don’t know all that many of them.

But I do know that many of its problems are NOT unique, and that’s where I want to start this conversation.

On Dec 5, the Stanford Daily published a piece called Culture of Silence Surrounds Sexual Assault.  It discusses the tribulations faced by a member of the Stanford student community after she was raped on campus; the trial that was undergone to get her perpetrator removed from campus; and the difficulties she faced in trying to reach out and talk to people.  One of my friends shared this article on Facebook, disgusted with the fact that this had happened at her school.  But the article, though published at Stanford and focused on the experiences of a Stanford student, doesn’t just illuminate problems specific to that university: taboos on discussing sexual assault and problems with sexual assault prevention are present at virtually every university in the United States, likely in the world.

I go to college on the opposite side of the country from Stanford.  My school is known for different things; the weather looks nothing like the weather in California; it’s not quite as hard to get in.  Where Stanford is a bastion of academia, my school is a breeding ground for political activism.  But when it comes to problems like sexual assault, we have a lot in common with Stanford University, and with colleges all over-~-and that’s not something I’m proud of.  At all.

Whenever I talk to college students about problems like sexual assault, they seem to be under the impression that this problem is far-removed from their lives.  They’re stunned that this could happen in THEIR community; this could never happen to THEM or one of THEIR friends or classmates.  It’s easy to pretend that sexual assault takes place in some reality not resembling our own, but that just isn’t the case: 1 in 5 women will be the survivor of an assault or attempted assault during her college years, and a significant number of men will experience assault as well.  That’s not a problem unique to any one school, and it’s not a problem any one school is exempt from.  Sexual assault is the product of a culture that refuses to recognize gender inequities, power dynamics, and the consequences of taboos on discussing sex and healthy relationships, and that is a culture that is pervasive in our societies and on our campuses.

The only way to change this is to break that silence.  Women and activists (and women activists) have been working to do so for years-~-with programs such as Take Back the Night, RAINN Day, and SlutWalk.  Not all of those are specific to colleges, though some are (for example, Take Back the Night).  The more we TALK about issues like sexual assault, the more likely it is that a) effective resources for survivors can be made available, b) officials will be forced to take complaints about sexual assault seriously and respond accordingly, and c) there will be less shame in reporting assaults and seeking help.  If we want safer campuses, we have to start asking difficult questions and having hard conversations.

Christina, the subject of the Stanford Daily article, was luckier than most: she reported the rape, evidence was gathered, and even though the judicial paralysis that has caused so many survivors to never receive justice through the legal system resulted in her not getting a conviction, Stanford University took the complaint seriously, held a trial, lowered the evidenciary standards to a preponderance of the evidence in order to give her justice, and removed the perpetrator from campus.  Many survivors don’t even get that much-~-they have to see their perpetrators around school, and are sometimes mocked by their perpetrators or friends of a perpetrator.  Many are slapped with a slut stigma, and their stories are not taken seriously at all.  While Stanford has plenty of resources for survivors, not every school does, and not every school makes it easy to find the resources that they do have.  Many survivors end up transferring schools in an effort to reclaim their lives.  I can’t imagine getting into Stanford University and then having to give it all up because I didn’t want to live with the shadow of an assault over my head every day-~-and I am sure that no one reading this would want to go through giving up their dream because their institution failed to respond to something like this.

Rape culture in the United States NEEDS to change, and universities may well be the place to start changing them.  But we need to start talking.  Schools CANNOT be permitted to continue to act as though this problem is not present on their campus-~-I assure you, it is. Freshman orientation should include a discussion of what resources are available to students who need them, and it could EASILY be incorporated into a discussion about public safety at the university and resources like a counseling center.  Students need to insist that conversations be had about date rape and what consent means; schools should WANT to be facilitating these conversations.  RAs should be trained at every school to respond to reports of sexual assault and to take them seriously-~-I know that George Washington University in Washington, DC, does this, and every school SHOULD be doing this.  The more the silence around sexual assault is broken, and the more openly it is discussed, the more we can start to really combat it.

Rape culture and the prevalence of assaults on campuses is not a reality we have to live with.  It can be changed, and the first step in that process is to do exactly what Christina did in the Stanford Daily article: start talking.


~ by Randi Saunders on December 7, 2012.

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