Sexual Assault Awareness
Posted by Meg Thompson on April 6, 2012 at 10:43 AM
This week marks the beginning of sexual assault awareness month for campuses and communities across the nation. For many, it is a month marked by guest speakers, consent workshops and Take Back the Night. For those of us on college campuses, where one in four women are raped, sexual assault awareness cannot end on April 30.
As we all know, preventing assault takes more than giving women whistles, half-hearted self-defense training, or mandatory speeches for athletes, sororities, and fraternities. It takes more than safe-ride programs, well-lit streets and emergency blue phones lining college quads. Among college women, nine in 10 survivors of sexual assault knew their attacker previously and only about 5 percent of rapes are reported to law enforcement. When questioned why they hadn't told the police, the answer was always the same: "I didn't think it would help," or worse yet, "I didn't think it was a big deal."
I’ll pause to let that really sink in.
The problem is that "rape" dredges up an image of a cloaked assailant confronting women in alleyways, but "rape," in legalistic terms, is sex without consent. Period. We live in a culture where being too drunk to say no constitutes a yes, and where date-rape drugs are common. This is the context in which most college-based rapes occur. What is needed is a serious shift in the current culture that pervades our campuses, where girls who wear short skirts and tight shirts at parties are "asking for it" and where guys "score" when they have sex with extremely intoxicated girls at parties.
We aren't going to be able to change rape culture in a single month, obviously. Don’t get me wrong; I think that sexual assault awareness month is a great way of raising the profile of sexual assault issues on campus and educating the public. But I think that everyone, and especially us women, has an imperative to continue working to eliminate sexual assault throughout the year.
So here is the big-money question: How do we end rape culture? I think that the only obvious answer is that there isn’t an easy, obvious answer, and it will not be a fast transition. We have to change the prevailing narrative of masculinity, which currently revolves around sexual conquest. We have to promote a culture of consent and encourage critical thought of the roles that parties and alcohol play in forming sexual relationships. And we have to make sure these messages of change reach everyone within our campus communities, not just feminist activists and allies.
How do we get our messages of change out in the public? It's not as simple as telling people that rape is bad. You can’t change a culture by saying 'this is wrong,' saying that this is how it has got to be. You need education, to broaden perspectives and meet people where they are. That means helping people (usually men) understand that sexual assault is a serious issue that affects them and the people that they care for and love.
When it comes down to the struggle against sexual assault on campus, every little bit helps. Every person who joins the fight against it is a victory. Every sexual assault survivor who becomes empowered to speak out and support other survivors is a victory. However, we cannot lose sight of the ultimate victory: eliminating sexual assault and replacing our current rape culture with a culture of consent. But this goal will not be achieved unless we continue to have conversations, programs and events not just in April, but during every month of the year.