Sexual rape, sexual abuse, college, college campuses, university, alcohol

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sexual Violence on College Campuses

Liz Czerwinski

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Bellevue College

 

Abstract

            Sexual assault in general is a crisis, but specifically sexual assaults on college campuses is a crisis that needs to be discussed and recognized. There are many reasons why some think sexual assaults on college campuses happen at the rate they do. These reasons include rape culture, male entitlement and male privilege, alcohol abuse, lack of education, lack of women in law enforcement, and the lack security and social guidelines on college campuses. There are also many theories on how to stop the amount of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses, such as educating adolescents and young adults about safe sex and what consent means and consists of or colleges banning alcohol and guests in rooms after a specific time for all students, even those of legal age to drink. The purpose of this essay is to convince you to believe that sexual assaults on college campuses, is indeed a crisis, should be recognized as such, and should have more efforts to prevent and help victims of sexual assaults on college campuses. 

Keywords: Sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, college, college campuses, university, alcohol abuse, law enforcement, alcohol, women, rape culture

 

 

Imagine having a child leave for college. Not only is your child now an adult and is beginning to start their life, but they are also having to deal with new social crises. One of the biggest threats to college students, especially female college students is sexual assault. While sexual assault itself is a crisis, I am going to focus on the rampant rate it is occurring on college campuses. The common statistics are that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and that three out of ten women will not report their assault. According to one study, 23% of women attending college have been sexually assaulted (Wallace, 2015). This problem has gotten so extreme that the federal government has created a task force dedicated to fighting sexual violence in general, but mainly on college campuses. To address the current crisis of sexual violence on college campuses, we should acknowledge the amount it happens, why it is happening, and how education will help solve this crisis. Issues contributing to this crisis are male entitlement and privilege, substance abuse, law enforcement problems, lack of security measures at schools, lack of social guidelines and rules at schools, lack of education about what constitutes as consent and sexual violence, abuse, assault, and rape.

The first issue helping contribute to the large amount of sexual assaults on college campuses is the lack of security measures at schools. As a student about to graduate high school, I have visited five different universities throughout the country and was very astounded at how different security measures are for every school. From police call boxes, to safe rides and/or walks home, to the general security of each residence hall and dorm room, it all varied drastically depending on the school. While visiting some schools, like the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, I saw that the administration took students’ safety very seriously and had services including police call boxes every 500 feet, free safe rides and walks home, three different police departments patrolling the campus, and ID/key cards that only allow specific students into their specific residence hall, wing, and room. While touring other schools, like Western Washington University, I saw that they only had two police forces that had access to and jurisdiction on the campus, very few police call boxes, and a basic lock and key system for the door of each room. This alone is very dangerous for all students. There should be minimum security system guidelines for public universities to follow, if not all.

Another larger problem that is contributing to the crisis of sexual assault on college campuses is male entitlement and privilege. While male entitlement and privilege are also large issues themselves that need to be addressed, they are very important when talking about sexual violence altogether. Male entitlement is the fact that men feel that they deserve whatever they want because they want it. Male entitlement itself is a section of male privilege. Male privilege is the special treatment people of the male gender receive only because they are male. This relates back to sexual assault and violence because most perpetrators of sexual assault and violence are men and this delusion that they can have and deserve whatever they want and can just take it is a very common theme in sexual violence. Many perpetrators believe that they are entitled to others’ bodies, which is not the case. If we teach everyone, but especially men, to be aware of their privilege and make sure they do not think they are entitled to anything, especially other peoples’ bodies in any way.

A third issue that is associated with the crisis of sexual assault on college campuses is alcohol abuse and how it affects peoples’ decision making. One article stated that current research has displayed a strong relationship between alcohol abuse issues and sexual aggression. This specific study examined the relationship between the severity of problematic alcohol use and sexual aggression among male students on college campuses. The article also talks about how the expectations of the alcohol abusers may also play a role and that abuse prevention could play a large role in reducing sexual aggression on college campuses (Tuliao, 2014). If we teach people how to drink safely and responsibly, alcohol abuse would not be as prevalent causing drinking male students to be less sexually aggressive.

Another problem contributing to the crisis of sexual assault on college campuses is the lack of women in law enforcement. One academic journal discusses how that at colleges where there are more women in the police forces on and around the campuses, more women report sexual assaults. The article suggests that the rates are higher when there are more women in law enforcement because the victims, especially female victims, may feel more comfortable coming forward thinking there is a higher chance of being believed and treated respectfully. It also calls for more women to be hired on forces on and near college campuses to increase the reports of sexual assaults on colleges (Oehme, 2015). If this continues, more victims will not come forward making it seem as if it is acceptable for these perpetrators to continue to commit similar crimes. To prevent and end this crisis, we need to do as much as possible for current and past victims to come forward and let it be known that nothing about sexual violence is acceptable.

Being a current college student who will be going away to college this fall I am genuinely terrified of being assaulted. I have been harassed and people have tried taking advantage of me before and it makes me very worried and upset to think about how often sexual violence occurs in environments like the one I will be headed to in a couple of months and live at for about the next three years. I understand that being assaulted is never the victim’s fault and that if I were assaulted I would not be to blame, but victim blaming is so apparent and frequent in our culture. Questions and statements such as “what were they wearing?”, “what were they drinking?”, “they led them on”, “you can’t expect them to just stop”, “that’s just being a tease” are basically just telling victims and perpetrators that the victim deserved it.  That is never the case. Nobody ever deserves to be sexually assaulted, abused, or raped.

This fear of mine is unfortunately not irrational or uncommon among women. It has been estimated that between 20% and 25% of women will experience a completed and/or attempted rape during their college career and “a prior study of a national sample of more than 6,000 students enrolled in 32 colleges and universities reported that 27% of the women had experienced attempted (12%) or completed (15%) rape in their lifetime” (Krebs). This fear is also a cause of some of my social anxiety. I do not get close to many people because I feel as though I cannot trust them since the majority of assaulters are at least acquaintances of the victims. This is also one of the reasons I choose not to drink alcohol. I understand that being inebriated or intoxicated is not a reason to assault or be assaulted, but I just personally feel safer knowing that I am of sound mind and sound body being sober.

I saw a documentary on Netflix called It Happened Here. It is about sexual assaults on college campuses, how frequently they happen, and how far colleges will go to silence the victim to protect the perpetrator or the college itself. In the documentary, the colleges tried very hard to silence the victims who were assaulted by athletes. They convince these victims to not press charges through the criminal justice system, but through the university’s administration. Then the university’s administration will try and convince the victim that it is either their fault, does not constitute as an assault, or did not happen at all (Schwartz-Nielsen, 2015). Sexual assault should not be tolerated, let alone covered up by people in power. It should not matter who the perpetrator or the victim is, or what potential they had. What should matter is the fact that someone was assaulted and that someone committed a crime.

Some like to argue that victims are “asking for it” by the way they are dressed, acting, or if they are inebriated. It is tiring to say over and over again, but the victim of sexual assault is never to blame for that assault.  I personally have no idea why anyone would logically think that being assaulted is the victim’s fault. Do we question people who were in fires why they were in such a flammable building? Is it logical to ask a victim of a burglary why they owned such desired items by the perpetrator? Both of these questions would be considered ridiculous and extremely illogical because nobody ever expects to be a victim and nobody should. But then why is it acceptable and sometimes considered logical for people to question whether or not the victim of sexual violence is to blame for that violence?

Some also argue that the lack of social guidelines and rules at schools is another reason why sexual assaults are so rampant on college campuses and is now a crisis. One article discusses the results of multiple studies and comes to the conclusion that to reduce rates of sexual assault on college campuses is making campuses dry and have opposite-sex guest bans. It suggests that the real problem with the amount of sexual assaults on campuses is that colleges need to set stricter social policies and enforce them, not “rape culture”. It also presents a study done where colleges with a dry policy or guest bans have lower sexual assault rates and that campuses with both have the lowest rates (Richardson, 2015). I personally do not believe that putting restrictions on young adults would help prevent sexual assaults dramatically because I think people will just sneak alcohol and guests if they really want to. And if something like sexual assault does occur, I think that a lot of potential victims would be too afraid to come forward because they broke a rule at the college. They also may believe that they will get into trouble as well and do not think that is worth reporting at that point.

I would also like to talk about sexual assaults against males on college campuses. While sexual assaults against men do not happen as often as they do to women, it is still a part of the overall crisis of sexual assaults on college campuses. Roughly 6.1% of a sample of 1,375 males reported that they had experienced attempted or completed sexual assault since entering college (Krebs, 2007). Many sexual assaults or instances of sexual abuse against men on college campuses have to do with some sort of hazing. Even though hazing is illegal, whether it be sports teams or fraternities, it still happens very often and can often include some type of sexual violence. There is not as much data on men being sexually assaulted in general, let alone specifically on college campuses for a couple of reasons. These reasons include the fact that they often feel embarrassed or emasculated, do not want to get a team or fraternity in trouble, and men being sexually assaulted is usually not considered as big of an issue as women being sexually assaulted. Sexual assaults can be committed by anyone and another issue, which is a problem for all but can be told specifically to men assaulted by women, is that they should just enjoy it. This is not acceptable. Every individual sexual assault should be treated with the same amount of compassion and care as the next, regardless of the genders of the people involved.

Another large issue within this crisis is sexual assaults against and/or within the LGBTQ+ community on college campuses. Sexual assaults against and/or within the LGBTQ+ community alone is a crisis, but I am going to limit myself to the topic at hand and discuss how often it happens to this community on college campuses specifically. I could not find specific data on how often sexual assaults against the LGBTQ+ community occurs, but “One study found that 13.2% of bisexual men and 11.6% of gay men were raped in adulthood, compared to 1.6% of heterosexual men. According to the CDC, 46% of bisexual women have been raped, compared to 13% of lesbians and 17% of heterosexual women. Another study found that more than 25% of transgender individuals had been sexually assaulted after the age of 13” (The White House, 2014). These numbers are staggering. While it is estimated that 1 in 5 or 20% of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, it is over double that for bisexual women. And while 1 in 71 or 0.014% of men are estimated to be sexually assaulted in their life, the rates increase exponentially when the men discussed are not heterosexual (The White House, 2014).

Another group of people largely affected by this crisis of sexual assaults on college campuses that are not often discussed specifically are women of color. When talking about sexual assaults in general, we usually only talk about women. We don’t talk about what types of women are being targeted. While I could not find data for assaults against women of color specifically on college campuses I did find that, “Women of all races are targeted, but some are more vulnerable than others: 33.5% of multiracial women have been raped, as have 27% of American Indian and Alaska Native women, compared to 15% of Hispanic, 22% of Black, and 19% of White women” (The White House, 2014).

While most of this essay is about physical sexual violence, sexual harassment is also a giant issue on college campuses. As someone who has experienced sexual harassment in a school environment, I can testify that it can affect your schoolwork and life. I did not want to go to school because I was afraid to see this person. They weren’t even in any of my classes, but that did not stop the fear of being harassed and made extremely uncomfortable and helpless against this situation. Until I was pushed to seek help, my grades had dropped and I stopped talking to a lot of my friends because they were associated with this person. Luckily, my friends learned about this harassment and helped me confront this issue and supported me. Being supported and believed is very important for victims of any type of violence or harassment. If people do not feel supported or believed, they will not come forward, people will believe that this violence is acceptable, the crisis of sexual violence on college campuses will only grow to be a bigger problem than it already is.

You as a person should care about this crisis because fellow human beings’ rights are being violated. You as a man should care about this because the majority of perpetrators are men and you should be aware of actions and attitudes that make it seem as though sexual violence is acceptable. Women should be concerned because the majority of victims are women. You as a member of the Bellevue College faculty should care about this because you work on a college campus and this is where the crisis is taking place. You should also care because you have talked about how people feeling included and safe are very important to you in your classroom. If people don’t feel safe at the school, they probably won’t feel safe in any classroom at that school either. You have also talked in class about how as a male you are privileged and you seem very aware of your privilege and I think that helping prevent and assist victims by speaking out and teaching against this violence would be using your privilege in a very useful way.

The last issue being evaluated in this essay that contributes to the crisis of the large amount of sexual assaults on college campuses is the lack of education about what constitutes as consent and sexual violence, abuse, and assault for all, but especially adolescents/young adults and college students. Studies have shown that if comprehensive sexual education is taught to high school and college students, the rates of sexual assaults, sexually transmitted diseases, and teen pregnancies decrease dramatically. If we know how to lower all of these crises in the United States and other places, why not implement the solution?

I personally believe that men and teachers have a lot of influence on how we fix this crisis. Men have a large amount of influence because, like stated previously, most perpetrators of sexual violence and harassment are of the male gender. When young men, like those of college age, grow up seeing their elders and people they look up to objectify others, especially women and make light of sexual violence it gives them this idea that sexual violence is acceptable. Then when they see their peers do the same, it only helps solidify this horrible idea. Teachers also have a great opportunity to influence peoples’ thoughts on sexual violence and harassment because they are in a position of power where impressionable people are made or willing to listen to what they have to say. If we begin to teach about how to prevent sexual violence when we start to teach sex education, an entire generation of people will have a different and more progressive thought process about sexual assault. This will lead to people being more respectful of those around them and, therefore, lead to fewer instances of sexual violence and harassment because they would have been taught from a very young age that this behavior is not acceptable and infringes on people’s basic human rights.

Things we could add to sex education is the respect for others personal space, privacy, and safety, people’s right to say no, and what consent looks like. Teaching about consent would be very helpful because one study found that in heterosexual couples of college age have different interpretations of consent, about how they give it and receive it (Jozkowski, 2014). If we were to teach people that consent needs to be expressed explicitly, there would not be as much confusion. I think something else we could teach is the fact that people have the right to say no. If you do not want something to happen that is being proposed, you should not feel bad about denying that request and if someone says no to you, you do not have the right to make them feel bad about that. People’s feeling of safety should be a top priority in any situation, especially a situation involving sex or any physical contact.

More issues that cause this issue to surge are the economic costs and the criminal justice system. Although hard to compute, several studies have calculated the economic costs of a rape, accounting for medical and victim services, loss of productivity, decreased quality of life, and law enforcement resources. Each were slightly different, but all found the costs to be a large amount of money ranging from $87,000 to $240,776 per rape. Remarkably, assailants of these sexual assaults on college campuses are often serial offenders with one study reporting that of the men who admitted to committing rape or attempted rape, about 63% said they committed an average of six rapes each. College sexual assault victims will suffer from high levels of mental health issues, such as depression and PTSD, maybe even drug and alcohol abuse (The White House, 2014).

Despite the frequency of rape and sexual assault, many offenders are never even arrested or prosecuted. A number of factors contribute to low arrest rates but police biases, like believing that many victims falsely claim rape to get attention, or that only those who’ve been physically injured are telling the truth, persist and may account for some officers’ unwillingness to make an arrest. Another factor is the trauma that often goes along with a sexual assault can leave a victim’s memory and verbal skills weakened and if are not interviewed with trauma-sensitive interviewing techniques, a survivor’s initial account can sometimes seem disjointed. Even when arrests are made, most prosecutors can be very hesitant to take on rape and sexual assault cases. Also, in some jurisdictions, the backlog of untested rape kits can also be a factor in low prosecution rates.  Rape kits are a tool that collect forensic evidence of a rape or sexual assault, hopefully including the perpetrator’s DNA and can be vital to successful prosecutions. These rape kits with the perpetrators DNA are tested, can lead to them being matched with other samples in the FBI’s national database, which only contains those of past offenders. If the DNA can be matched it would identify assailants and link crimes together. Unfortunately, however, many rape kits are either ignored or waiting to be tested (The White House, 2014).

In conclusion, to address the current crisis of sexual violence on college campuses, we need to acknowledge the amount it happens, why it is happening, and how education will help solve this crisis. In addition, I believe that we should also make sure that victims of these crimes and violence feel believed and safe afterward and realize that they deserve help and justice. Best put by our current president, President Barack Obama, “Perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back”. (Not Alone)