“One in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime”
“It is estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year.”
“Less than 5% of completed or attempted rapes against college women were reported to law enforcement.”
- National Institute of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics
We’ve all heard these powerful statistics in one form or another and have done our best to not ignore the cries of the victims of sexual assault and rape on college campuses, but there is still a wall of silence obscuring this issue. Each year, students excitedly attend colleges and universities hoping to explore new interests, meet new people, find themselves, and receive a satisfactory education. However, in addition to the growing responsibilities that eighteen year olds are expected to uphold, there is another worry hovering in the back of many minds of young adults (particularly women although men are sexually assaulted as well) beginning college: sexual assault.
As a rising freshman at a liberal arts college where sexual assault has occurred in the past and is bound to occur in the future, I’m genuinely afraid. I wonder if a day will go by where I won’t wonder if I will be the one woman in four who is sexually assaulted. I also wonder what will happen if I am sexually assaulted: will I be empowered enough to tell anyone? Will I be able to stop it? Will I be traumatized and unable to continue classes? I don’t want to have to worry about sexual assault in addition to studying, making friends, and trying new clubs, but unfortunately this is an issue that has become so prevalent in our society, it is almost impossible for it to not cross the mind of a woman in college.
After speaking to multiple friends about their fears and hearing about the stories of Emma Sulkowicz, the anonymous Brock Turner victim, and numerous other innocent victims, my fears have been far from quelled. Emma Sulkowicz was in her sophomore year at Columbia when she was raped by someone who had been a friend at the time. She famously carried around a mattress with her all throughout her senior year as a performance art piece and, more importantly, a message of protest to the silence that surrounded rape on college campuses. The perpetrator received no punishment. Recently, a 23 year old woman was raped by swimmer Brock Turner while visiting her sister at a college. When this woman did speak up about the incident, however, Turner only received 6 months of imprisonment; 5 years and 6 months too short.
It’s cases like these that entice fear in women attending college because even when women do speak up about these issues, few listen or they’re blamed and stigmatized. These are only two examples of women who have been raped, and these are women who were empowered enough to tell someone. Now think of all of the nameless victims who have remained silent on these issues. It’s unfair that we live in a society where rape culture has become normalized and that the silencing of the victim’s voices is routine. How can we, as a society, stop this rape culture? And how can we prevent young women from having a fear of entering college where sexual assault is so prevalent?
Although I don’t have a specific solution to these questions because a complex cultural change is one of the main necessities, there are a couple of things that schools and students can do to alleviate the fears of women. Many schools are now requiring incoming students and current students to take courses online or in person about sexual assault and rape. In these courses, students can learn about how to have consensual sex, how to look out for others who may be in the position of being sexually assaulted, and, most importantly, how to step up in these situations and stop sexual assault from occurring. Many schools are also part of the “blue-light” campus system where, when a student is in danger, they can press this button that appears in multiple parts of the campus and campus police will come immediately to aid a student who is in danger. In addition to these services provided by the colleges, all students should keep RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) contact information in their phone in case they are in a position where they need immediate protection or support: 1-800-656-4673. Everyone can also make themselves more aware of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses by watching documentaries such as The Hunting Ground. Although I found this film incredibly disturbing, it was also incredibly important to see in order to fully understand the gravity of the assault culture. Lastly, we all need to Listen. Listen. Listen. We cannot ignore the cries of victims of sexual assault. When women are unheard, it discourages other women from speaking up about their own incidents and also from, if possible, stopping the assault in the moment.
These are only some tools that we can incorporate into our society in order to reduce the rape culture, but they will only work if we keep the dialogue flowing about this issue and provide safe spaces for women (and men) to openly share their experiences. If you are reading this and have either been sexually assaulted or are afraid of sexual assault, please remember that more colleges are confronting this issue than ever before, and you are not alone.