As a freshman girl at Vanderbilt University, I am very concerned about sexual assault on college campuses. It is alarming that one in five women are sexual assaulted during their time at college, and that women are more likely to be sexually assaulted if they go to college than if they do not. Although it is not as common, men also endure sexual assault while studying at universities. Teenagers are told to go to college so that they can be successful adults, but it is not fair that in order to achieve life goals, people have to put themselves at risk. I think that society as a whole needs to work towards making college campuses safer and sexual assault less prevalent.
I would like to address the term sexual assault. Sexual assault occurs when a person is forced, coerced, or threatened to participate in an involuntary sexual behavior. This non-consensual sexual act is a type of sexual violence that can include any type of sexual contact. Sexual assault includes vaginal and anal rape, any form of oral sex or sexual touching, sexual torture, and coerced kissing. If a person is under the influence of a drug or alcoholic substance, they are unable to give consent.
I think that one of the main reasons why sexual assault is so prevalent on college campuses is that hookup culture thrives. People are often put in vulnerable situations where they can be taken advantage of in this context.
In Kathleen A. Bogle’s book, Hooking Up, she discusses how in the 1960’s there was a shift from dating to hookup culture, particularly on college campuses. She explains how college parties present opportunities for sexual encounters, and this is especially the case when alcohol is consumed at these get togethers. Alcohol weakens a person’s inhibition and increases their chances of being sexual assaulted.
Furthermore, Bogle explains how students are deceived into thinking that their college campus is safe. College students feel that having sexual interactions with other students they do not know first hand is acceptable because of the illusion of safety that college presents. Students may assume potential predators are well-intentioned people because they may share mutual friends or be in the same classes. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Students are put in a more vulnerable position to endure sexual assault at college campuses because of the high amount of alcohol consumption and the false sense of security that prevails.
The video above, highlights the severity of the sexual assault problem on college campuses. Emma Sulkowicz, a junior at Colombia College, reveals how her school administration was not very responsive to her needs as a rape victim. Rather than appropriately support her and sufficiently punish her perpetrator, her school did not properly address this issue. Currently, her rapist is allowed to stay on campus and graduate even though he has violated multiple women. Studies have shown that male perpetrators are more often than not repeat offenders, and that they will victimize an average of six people. It seems as though the administration at Colombia was more concerned with hiding from negative publicity than addressing their daunting sexual assault problem.
Sexual assault is not being adequately addressed at colleges across the United States, but there are things that can be done to take a stand against this problem.
I think that one of the reasons why sexual assault is so prevalent on college campuses is the lack of education regarding this issue and what consent really entails. Schools should be required to provide monthly education to all students regarding sexual assault, and student should have open discussion with their peers about it in an educational setting. This would help students have a better understanding of what constitutes sexual assault, especially when alcohol is consumed and consent is questionable. A persistent message from administration to students will increase awareness of the intricacies of sexual violence and create a college culture that condemns sexual assault throughout the entire college experience. One workshop that is implemented during freshman year, a practice that colleges commonly adopt, does not have a lasting effect.
Additionally, I think that students should work at a grassroots level and promote campus safety through organizational involvement, like through Project Safe and Green Dot. These groups can help protest sexual violence, provide resources for victims, make efforts to improve campus safety, and openly discuss sexual assault stories to raise awareness. Ultimately, having large student body participation could greatly improve the way sexual assault is perceived on campus.
I also think it is very important for students to use social media to educate and address sexual assault. Whether sharing a link on Facebook about a sexual assault victim, or tweeting about ways students can get involved on campus to fight or learn more about sexual assault, social media is a fast and effective way to communicate with a large amount of people about this important problem.
At an administrative level, punishments for perpetrators should be much more severe. I think that they should face expulsion for sexually assaulting another person. This would not only make students less inclined to assault another individual, but also would highlight how the community disproves of this type of behavior. Additionally, implementing classes like “Sex and Society” that address sexual assault and other controversial issues would be helpful in raising awareness about sexual assault at educational institutions.
All in all, we need to work to raise awareness, increase education about sexual assault, and establish policies to support sexual safety at colleges. People will be more inclined to disclose if they have been assaulted, seek resources, and receive appropriate treatment if necessary. As a student, I know that I would be a highly motivated participant of any effort to make our campus as safe and sexual assault free as possible. We need to actively express our disgust with sexual assault and take a stand against it on campus.
How prevalent do you think sexual assault is on your campus? Do you feel safe at college? What are other ways students and administration can make campuses safer?