Rape culture and the college experience

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Photo courtesy of Barstool Sports

It’s been nearly four months since former Stanford student Brock Turner, was sentenced to six months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman. It’s been nearly one month since tape recording surfaced of Donald Trump bragging about groping women without their consent.

Trump simply dismissed the recording as “locker room talk” while Turner’s father told the judge that jail time was a “steep price to pay for twenty minutes of action.”  Today, Turner is out of jail and Trump is set to be the next president of the United States.

On today’s college campuses, sexual violence is a common occurrence. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be victims of sexual assault while in college. More than 90 percent of these assaults will go unreported to authorities.

In an in-depth study from the American Association of Universities, nearly one third of rape victims said they didn’t choose to report the crime because they were “embarrassed, ashamed, or thought that it would be too emotionally difficult.” About the same number of students said they “did not think anything would be done about it.”

These victim’s responses are just one example of the effect rape culture has on today’s college campuses.

“Rape culture is the makeup of general attitudes, beliefs, and social norms that create a climate in which sexual violence is condoned or supported” said Kayla Ham, coordinator of the University of Denver’s Center for Advocacy, Prevention, and Empowerment (CAPE).

Since the term’s coinage in the 1970’s, rape culture has been used to identify the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes male sexual violence. Rape culture is an environment where victims are told to act in ways that won’t lead to a sexual assault.

Recently when speaking to a group of law students at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto Canada, a cop told women they could avoid sexual harassment and assault by “not dressing like sluts.”

University of Indiana sophomore Isabella Schutz, has been given advice like this before.

“I’ve been warned about which house parties not to go to because they put roofies in girl’s drinks” she said.

In an analysis of over 500 sexual assault prevention tips from over forty colleges, researchers from the University of Maryland found that over 80 percent of sexual assault prevention tips were directed at women. These tips included advice on communicating their sexual preferences and avoiding secluded areas.

“I think some aspects of the college experience foster spaces where rape culture can exist and persist. Its shown in comments like ‘In those clothes, she was asking for it” Ham explained.

But rape culture doesn’t just show up in what is said to victims, it also manifests itself in the traditions, organizations and behavior of students on campus as well.

At Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University in Canada a group of students of both genders were recorded singing a sexually aggressive chant about sex with an underage girl during freshman orientation.

Photos of sexually explicit posters hung up around campuses at colleges across the the U.S. have recently surfaced on the internet.  At Ohio University one offended student took photos of the posters which included phrases like You taught her morals we’ll teach her oral and your daughters are in good hands.

“I’ve seen photos of posters like that on popular college Instagram accounts, I think the kids who do it just want to get a reaction out of people” said University of Denver sophomore, Madelyn Tenenbaum.

Another element of rape culture is in society’s acceptance of sexual harassment as an inevitable and accepted thing, especially on college campuses. In many cases of sexual harassment, the incident is downplayed as “boys being boys” but this is a dangerous mindset according to a report from psychologist Elizabeth J. Meyer.

“The expression ‘boys will be boys’ attempts to explain away aggressive behaviors that a small number of people exhibit by linking it with “natural” or “biological” impulses, without examining other reasons for the aggression” Meyer wrote.

According to a report from the American Association of University Women (AAUW), more than half of male college students admit they have sexually harassed someone in college.

Sexual harassment includes catcalling, physical contact such as brushing up against someone, groping, or other non-physical contact like flashing and public masturbation.

“A lot of places that are apart of the college night life are dark and crowded and I think people think that’s an excuse for touching your lower back when they try to get by or coming up and dancing behind you without your permission” said Tenenbaum.

Campus sexual harassment creates an environment where words can escalate to physical contact and other forms of violence, including stalking, assault or rape.

Though sexual assault can occur anywhere to anyone, certain organizations on campus have higher rates of sexual violence. A study from James Madison University found evidence that some fraternity or athletic team members are more likely to commit sexual assault than males in the general student population.

In 2010, pledges from the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Yale University walked through campus chanting, “No means yes, yes means anal.”

More recently, Harvard University’s soccer team came under fire for creating a scouting report in which a member of the 2012 men’s soccer team ranked the sexual attractiveness of the women’s team recruits in explicit terms.

“There are spaces and environments where perpetrators can more easily hide and go undetected, such as in groups or communities where a rape culture is condoned or perpetuated” Ham said.

The statistics are staggering. According to a study from the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, one in three perpetrators of campus sexual assault are athletes. Other sources have claimed that fraternity members are 300 percent more likely to rape someone than other male students on campus.

There is no specific method for ending sexual assault on college campuses, but there are multiple one can help prevent sexual violence according to Ham.

“Dismantling rape culture, creating survivor supportive environments, perpetrator accountability, ongoing education, awareness, and discussion on the issues of sexual assault are all part of the solution” she concluded.

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