Is Every College America’s Rape Capital?

The truth is, for young

women, America’s

campuses are

dangerous places

-Eliza Gray

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Final Reflection: A Post on Society & Sex

Upon being asked the question of what the most important and influential concept to understanding the relationship between sex and society covered in this semester, I began to think about all the different concepts talked and read about in class. When thinking about everything, I began to see connections between different terms that came up throughout the semester that were discussed that I had never seen before. The concepts are all fairly different, yet are all still related in some ways because of the manner that society has been formed over the years. Agents of socialization, sex education, social constructions, and heteronormativity have all become interconnected, creating an environment of hostility towards people who do not identify as heterosexual.

The agents of socialization people are exposed to impact their views on everything in life. However, their views on sex are affected more so than some other aspects of life are. The socialization of sex and sex education has a more prevalent impact on how a person forms their ideas and views on sex. The environment a person was raised in, their religion, schooling experience, family, friends, and the media all heavily influence the formation of what sex means and should mean to a person. But, this can be dangerous- with the amount of societal constructions (such as what “good” or “normal” sex is, gender, etc.)  that exist today, it is easy for the manner in which a person was socialized to negatively affect their views on sex or gender. For example, many religions do not condone homosexuality, so if someone is raised in that environment, it is likely they would judge and discriminate anyone who is homosexual.

SInce gender is a social construction, it easy to stereotype and discriminate against those who do not fit into the gender binaries that exist today (boy and girl). So, those who appear as  lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, or transgender are easily stereotypes and judged. The heteronormative ideals that are held by the majority of the people in this country also lead to stigmas and discrimination. When people who have other sexual orientations other than heterosexual, they are often mistreated by society and can even be susceptible to violence, sexual violence in particular (as seen in the video of the transgender man who used the bathroom of a New York McDonald and was beat for it by the manager, yet was charged for a misdemeanor when in actuality he was the victim ).

Over the years, this problem has perpetuated. It has become easier for discrimination and violence to occur without any repercussion on the perpetrator. The connections between these terms and these societal constructions and manifestations all lend to why society is as it is today and why people discriminate, act violently toward, and outcast nonheterosexual people. Having a good understanding of all these terms allows for a person too see the interconnectedness and understand why these horrible things occur. It allows for people to be aware of  the problem and not lend to it or be an enabler.

Project Safe for a safer campus

On November 17th this semester, our class welcomed a presentation from two guest speakers from Project Safe. I found this presentation to be one of the most influential presentations that we have witnessed thus far. The two women were extremely knowledgeable and dedicated to their roles in Project Safe and were extremely passionate, which provided for an enticing and engaging presentation. Project Safe, as defined by the guest speakers, is a center for sexual misconduct prevention and response. The mission of the center is to “provide information, support, referrals, and education about power-based personal violence (including sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking), as well as consent, healthy relationships, and healthy sexuality to the Vanderbilt University community.”  Vanderbilt has been affected by many reported incidents of sexual assault and personal violence and so this presentation was extremely relevant to this campus and at this time. The guest speakers explained how the center serves as a resource for victims that can assist in finding he or she proper support through resources such as counseling and/or legal matters. The women described the issue of sexual assault on the campus by providing statistics regarding the number of personal violence incidents that have occurred on campus while respecting the confidentiality of the victims. The guest speakers provided insight on how crucial this center is to the campus in giving an idea of just how many victims they are approached by and how their jobs require availability for long hours of attending to and providing emotional support of the victim. A beneficial aspect of this presentation was the energy of the two women that spoke. Their dedication and passion that they have for Project Safe was obvious and inspiring. The women were also extremely helpful in answering questions that our class had for them at the end of the presentation. Our class asked questions such as about the rape scandal that occurred within our Vanderbilt Football team and the prevalence of the emails that we receive reporting sexual assaults on campus. I was especially curious about the emails that we receive about reported sexual assaults, as I wrote my op-ed piece on this topic. These emails are alarming in quantity and I wondered how many of the reported sexual assaults are represented in these emails and the criteria that an incident fits into in order for it to be sent out in an email to the campus student body. A limitation of this presentation might be that the two women could have provided an example of an incidence of sexual assault that had occurred on campus that might have been especially heinous in order to express the immensity of the problem that personal violence signifies in general. Although it is not necessary for the presentation, it might have added strength to the power of the audience reaction.

A connection that I made from this presentation was to many of the previous content we have covered involving sexual misconduct and sexual violence. This presentation reminded me of the exhibition, “I am Unbeatable” photographed by Donna Ferrato that we viewed in October in the Fine Arts Gallery. Seeing the images that portrayed acts of abuse from that exhibition left me with an unsettling feeling and an obvious disgust for this type of abuse. Project Safe aims to prevent acts of violence such as the ones exhibited by Donna Ferrato and provides a resource for victims of personal violence. With both the raised awareness by Donna Ferrato’s photograph and creation of this exhibition and the Project Safe center becoming more well-known and utilized, our nation can attempt to eliminate violence like this and emphasis the disgust that characterizes sexual and power-based personal violence.

An example that I felt related to this presentation of Project Safe is this image that I came across on the Internet.

This image is very informative and covers a wide range of statistics that are related to sexual violence and assault specifically at the University of Texas in Austin. As mentioned during the presentation and during many classes, one in five woman are sexually assaulted while in college. Many of these statistics are alarming and shocking. Eighty to ninety percent of assaults on college campuses involve victims that know their assailants. This relates to the question that the guest speakers addressed about the emails from VUPD that the student body receives informing us on sexual assaults on campus. Both women notified us that many people do not pay close enough attention to the wording and content in the email and should be aware that many emails specify whether or not the assault was considered an acquaintance or not. This might influence the perception of sexual assault on campus and may alleviate some fear that might stem from the fear of being assaulted by an unknown person wandering on campus. It also might promote wariness about those around us and to not trust all of our acquaintances and to be more alert on campus in general.  A key statistic in this image was that less than five percent of survivors report their crime. This statistic is one that is consistent with the guest speaker’s presentation and implies that the emails that the student body receives only accounts for reported assaults. With such a small percentage of assaults being reported, one can assume that sexual assault occurs quite a bit more frequently than we would infer from those emails.

 

Do you feel safe on this college campus?

Why do you think such a small percentage of survivors of sexual assault are actually reported?

Do you feel as if Project Safe would be a resource you would utilize if this situation arose for you?

Project Safe and Power-Based Personal Violence

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Project Safe is a program on Vanderbilt University’s campus that provides help, support, and information for students, in regards to sexual assault. A few weeks ago, two of Projects Safe’s leading staff members: Cara Tuttle Bell and Wanda Swan came into class to further explain to us what they do at Project Safe, how they do it, and why they do it. Cara is the Director of Programs for Project Safe and Wanda is a Prevention Educator and Victim Specialist. The whole point of this program is to further spread information about power based personal violence (which includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and stalking) to the Vanderbilt community and act as a safe space for students (who are experiencing any of these things or know someone experiencing them) to go to. Project Safe also supplies information about what defines consent, healthy relationships, and how to maintain a healthy sexuality—to Vanderbilt students. Project Safe works specifically with people who have been affected by some sort of power based personal violence and helps them through their experience by reaching out to other Vanderbilt resources. These resources include the Psychological and Counseling Center, Student Health, the Equal Employment, Affirmative Action and Disability Services Department, and the Vanderbilt University Police Department. Cara and Wanda work with these victims of power based personal violence and outside recourses to come together and create a safer place for students to feel comfortable in and more protected.

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In their class presentation, Cara and Wanda explained how they have recently written a twenty-three paged paper defining what sexual assault really is. The document is called the 2014-2015 Vanderbilt University Sexual Misconduct and Power-Based Personal Violence Policy. It outlines Vanderbilt University’s “principles of equal opportunity” and it “seeks to establish and maintain a safe and healthy environment for all members of the University community.” It provides information on steps that students should take for prevention, education, and training—all in relation to power based personal violence. The lengthy paper works to provide an elaborate definition of what power based sexual assault is and all of the aspects that go along with it. The document touches upon where to seek immediate assistance and ongoing assistance, all the different types of offenses (within power based personal violence), how to report an incident, how investigations (of sexual assault) work, and additional information for students, faculty members, and staff members.

While this document specifically touches upon multiple different aspects of sexual assault and is very descriptive—realistically… not many people are going to read it (especially students). I see this as a pretty big problem. Young people, specifically students, need an accessible definiteion of power based personal violence in order to fully understand what it is. While working on my final project, it became clear to me that very few students on Vanderbilt’s campus are actually aware of and could explain what power-based personal violence is—and what it involves (after reading survey responses and listening to interviews from students). Most students were either unaware of the rape culture Vanderbilt has, could not definite what rape culture or sexual assault is, they had no idea what any of the bystander programs are or do, and just in general—knew very little about the topic overall. Students have an unclear definition of sexual assault and many just do not even know what it is or what qualifies as sexual assault. Obviously somebody needs to inform Vanderbilt’s student body of the issues our campus is facing and about the issues themselves. Students need to be knowledgeable about sexual assault, power-based personal violence, and the resources available to them (such as Green Dot and other bystander programs). If we can somehow reach the younger generation in an accessible way (unlike a twenty three page long document) there could potentially be a lot of positive outcomes. If students actually understood what power based personal violence is and how to protect themselves and combat the issue, Vanderbilt’s community could grow to be a much safer place. Once students become truly education on the topic of sexual assault, only then can we see improvements in community life and perhaps a decrease in sexual assault on campus. It is very important students gain awareness on the matter in order to be able to keep themselves and their peers protected. Along with this, all victims of any form of power based personal violence should feel safe enough to come out and tell people what happened. No student should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed. Victims should be informed enough about power based personal violence and all of the bystander programs available around campus. That way, if a student is affected by sexual assault they know about the resources they can go to for any type of help they may need. Overall, Vanderbilt University needs to work towards finding a way to easily, but affectively, inform students on Vanderbilt’s campus in order to generate a safer and all around better campus environment. There may not be an easy solution, but it will be worthwhile (and save young people) in the end.

 

Do you think project safe does a good job of living out its mission statement? How do you think it could be more affective in helping Vanderbilt students? Do you think the Vanderbilt Community is aware of and uses Project Safe as a resource for those who have experienced sexual assault? How do you think we can help Vanderbilt students to better understand the definition of sexual assault and what it really entails?

 

 

 

A New Definition of Consent

It’s no secret that sexual assault and violence on college campuses has recently become very prevalent in media and the minds of students and faculty across college campuses, as well as in the minds of the government; multiple stories and different accounts of sexual assault and rape have been in the the news, forcing attention to be drawn to this issue and for it to be addressed. Recent studies in sexual assault on college campuses across the United States reveal that one in five women report being assaulted on college campuses, which is terrifying considering in the past, cases of this have never been properly reported or given attention. Students and victims of sexual assault have begun to cry out also, bringing attention to this issue. Some of their accounts can be read in newspapers or seen on the news, as the sexual assault that took place on our very own campus here was. Time magazine even devoted an entire issue due to this problem; in this issue, multiple politicians, activists, scholars, authors, lawyers and victims shared their voice and opinions on sexual assault on college campuses and how it should be taken care of.

Two of the articles in this issue that stood out to me the most include an article called “‘My Rapist Is Still on Campus’” written by Emma Sulkowicz, a victim of rape and junior from Columbia College, and an article written by Jonathan Kalin, a student activist who formed a movement for consent called “Consent Must Be Created, Not Given.” In Sulkowicz’s article, she tells of how she was raped the very first day of her sophomore year, and she is near the end of her college life yet her rapist is still free and on campus and will graduate with her. Not only did her rapist commit an act of sexual assault on her, but also on two other girls. Sulkowicz would wake up everyday afraid to leave her room for the fear of her rapist; in the future when she looks back on her experience at Columbia, it will be defined by this. it will be defined by how she received no help from the university when she asked for it and how she will have to life with this injustice for her entire life. When Sulkowicz did reach out to the school for help, administration and the campus justice system dismissed her case and the accounts of what had happened to her.

Situations similar to Sulkowicz’s happen way too often, and are the reason for all of the recent backlash that Universities are facing today; in fact, 55 universities are under investigation by the federal government for lacking in dealing with sexual assault cases on campus properly.  Many universities figure that they can brush these cases under the rug for fear of losing prestige and credibility. This may have worked in the past, however, rape on college campuses has become so prevalent, and on some campuses more so than others, that it can no longer be ignored. In recent years, rape culture has been perpetuated due to the media, sexist mentalities, and a sense of apathy from society. Relationships displayed in movies, TV shows, and music’s lyrics lend to the idea of rape and make power based violence seem acceptable in certain situations. Whether people or conscious of it or not, these images and messages are received by people and can contribute to their mentality and beliefs on sexual assault, swaying them to become more accepting, or even apathetic.

In Kalin’s article, he speaks of his movement to recreate the definition of consent and educating people about sexual violence in hopes of preventing it. He asserts that societal norms and the expectation of what college life should be like have created an environment where sexual assault is way too prevalent always featuring repeatedly shamed survivors of assault and perpetrators who plead the crime as one of “misunderstanding.” Although the government has recently stepped in in trying to help prevention, Kalin believes it will take a lot more than just this to change the culture associated with this; in order for it to change, the definition of consent must be considered and changed. Consent is not a silent practice as it appears in many movies and TV shows. It is something that must be verbalized and discussed to ensure that there are no misunderstandings and the participants are on the same page. If consent is an assumed silent thing, then there will obviously be multiple misunderstanding and can lend to the amount of sexual assault that occur on college campuses. Kalin also asserts that consent should not be made out to be a commodity, therefore people should no longer say that consent was “given” or “got,” but rather that is was created. If consent is created, then it should be backed by full understanding on both parties involved.

The recent strides made by the government and other activist organizations have helped the this cause immensely. College campuses have created outlets and resources to aid student victims and give them an outlet for support. Organizations such as Project Safe, Green Dot, and the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center all on Vanderbilt’s campus all strive to do this. Legislation has urged and pushed for bills to be written and rewritten to aid in preventing and solving the issue of sexual assault and violence on college campuses. Today, activists are still urging people to take notice of the issue at hand and hope to cease the perpetuation of rape culture on college campuses across the culture. In order for this to happen, college students need to be well informed and educated on the issue, knowing exactly what constitutes as sexual violence.

How could Vanderbilt do a better job of educating its students on sexual assault? Should informing students on sexual assault and violence be required by all universities? How effective do you really think the programs are on Vanderbilt’s campus at aiding in the prevention of sexual assault on campus?