Given the serious nature of sexual violence, the best resource for you or someone you know who is experiencing harm at the moment is RAINN. Because I am sharing more of my perspective on the issue, this is by no accounts a professional point of view. I just hope to start a narrative and increase awareness.
Also note, there will be mention of sexual assault and other non-consensual acts.
I thought a lot about the way I wanted to structure this article, especially with a topic that is very personal to me. As we all continue to fight for the Black Lives Matter movement, I have also seen an uprising of people bringing a light to other societal issues as they become more passionate in the idea of changing the world we live in. I have never felt more proud of my generation as when I see the brazenness of budding adults denounce old ideals and educate one another for a better tomorrow.
With that in mind, I want to write about sexual violence on college campuses. Sexual violence ranges from stalking to rape. Many times people invalidate their experiences because it is not rape, but where there is no consent, there is sexual violence. If you look at the statistics, sexual violence affects a significant number of people, but to really start delving into this problem, there needs to be a recognition of the intersectionality within such numbers. As the statistics state, Native Americans and transgender individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing sexual violence. There are also studies that demonstrate the pervasiveness of sexual violence among black women. It is not just one group that is the forefront image, there are different experiences that must be addressed when talking about sexual violence.
There are underlying systems that integrate themselves into our society creating a “rape culture.” Unwanted touching (e.g. having someone unnecessarily touch your waist when they walk past you), rape jokes (e.g. the ever unfunny prison rape joke), normalizing statements (e.g. “boys will be boys”) are one of the many building blocks that not only inhibit sexual violence, but also causes a shame among victims to speak up about their trauma.
College is a privileged path. It is like living in a little world before entering reality, but it does not mean it is immune to harboring a culture that encourages sexual violence. “Hookup Culture” is usually characterized as being an epitome of sexual freedom, and I agree that no one should be shamed and forced to live a certain life. It becomes a problem, though, when one particular lifestyle, carefree sex, is inescapable even for those who want a different avenue to sex, romance, or what be it. You can talk to anyone in college and see that there are downsides to the hookup culture, which may have led to the increased use of dating apps among people who want to gain more control in their dating and sex life (although even dating apps have their own negatives as well). Hookups are not just a one time event with no strings attached because it is tied to a culture of specific patterns that one must follow. Parties, binge drinking, and a pressure to say yes (if you have to be coerced to give a yes, that is not consensual).
I’m not saying that the hookup culture specifically causes sexual violence, but I am saying that sexual violence is not a rare thing on college campuses (use this link to look up cases of sexual violence in a specific college). Besides getting to know the cases that have occurred on a specific college campus, it is also vital to know the policies and laws that go into reporting and investigating cases of sexual violence. The most predominant law being that of Title IX.
Title IX reads that, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
This title has extended itself to territories such as cases of sexual violence in dealing with sex discrimination, and since May of 2020, there have been new regulations set in place for how a school has to deal with sexual assault claims. There has been a lot of debate about these new regulations, specifically given the timing of introducing the new guidelines in the middle of a pandemic. In my point of view, the guidelines need further improvement and refinement since I can already see issue with adding in a need to cross-examine witnesses which can trigger traumatic memories, but the problem I always notice in the arguments over such laws is that people get stuck on definitions and scope while forgetting that there are actual people who want accountability.
Because of Title IX, there has to be a department in each college that works to implement the new guidelines. I would like to share a sexual assault case from Brown that in summary outlines the technicalities and loopholes that surround Title IX. I know it sounds like I am saying that Title IX is useless, but what I want is for more thorough and effective investigations that get to justice while also ensuring the victim doesn’t have to suffer more throughout the process.
But other times I wonder if we need a different system altogether.
I remember when I was 10 years old and my mom signed me up for defense classes with the local police station. I was actually excited because I thought, “Finally, if someone ever grabs me again, I can defend myself.” It was required that before the physical training, I had to attend educational classes on sexual violence. They did not teach about rape culture or the nuance of discrimination that plays into sexual violence, they taught me that the reason why people get raped was because of what they wear, the time they decide to go out, and their general demeanor (frail, weak, tempting).
I wonder what will happen if instead of teaching us that sexual violence is the fault of the victim, we taught ways of dismantling rape culture and hookup culture. What if instead of saying, “Not all men,” we started holding perpetrators accountable for their actions (your friends, your family members, etc). What if instead of using the phrase, “Men get raped, too” as a counterpoint to invalidate the experiences of women, we use that very accurate statement to gain more momentum in ending sexual violence. What if instead of teaching that sexual violence is an isolated, rare event perpetrated by a stranger, we raise awareness of the pervasiveness of these horrendous acts from people we are familiar with. We need to discuss these matters, we need action.