5 Things You Can Do to Help End Sexual Assault on Campus
97%. That's the portion of rapists who will never go to jail. Other numbers on sexual assault are also staggering: "80% to 90% of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows; 60% of attacks occur in the victim's residence, and 31% take place in other living quarters." As thousands of new graduates will flood the campuses of colleges and universities around the country in September, many will enter with the fantasy of endless good-times and socializing, without realizing they will be the ones most vulnerable to sexual assault. So what can students do to help end sexual assault on campus? If you are a student, here is a list of 5 things that you should keep in mind:
1. If you see something, say something.
This famous slogan created by the Department of Homeland Security need not solely apply to counter-terrorism purposes. If you see something suspicious, don't be afraid to report it to your resident adviser and/or your campus security department. And if you feel your school is not taking adequate measures to respond to your report, do report it to the police. Of course, noticing something suspicious requires a certain level of vigilance. Therefore, have your earphones out and cell phones on, especially when you are alone.
2. Be prepared and always plan ahead.
While it may be pessimistic to always plan for the worst-case scenario, it never hurts to do so. Create code words with friends and family that will notify them in case you are in danger. If you are separated from your group, always let them know where you are or will be, and with whom you will be. In social settings, always look around you for escape routes should something happen — whether it's a sexual assault or a fire. Also remember that honesty is not always the best policy — if you feel you really have to get away from a situation, you can lie about why you need to leave.
3. Learn about consent.
Always ask for consent. No means no. Getting someone drunk to the point where they can't say no is not equivalent to getting their consent — while state laws vary on when "too drunk to consent" is, they all agree that both participants must be conscious to give consent. Also, forced consent is still not consent, either. If you were pressured into having sex with someone you didn't want to, that person still didn't have your consent. Above all, teach this to others. We need all students to know what consent means in order to effectively prevent sexual assaults on campus (and in society in general).
4. Take claims seriously.
If someone tells you that they have been subjected to sexual misconduct, take them seriously. Even stalking should be taken seriously. In these traumatic situations, the victim needs someone they can trust. Listen to them without blaming or shaming them. Encourage and help them to report their experience to the appropriate people.
5. Know what resources you have on campus.
Schools have people you can go to about matters of sexual misconduct. Learn what and who they are and what they can do for you. If you think your school does not have sufficient resources to prevent and address sexual misconduct, you can petition to establish one, just as several NYU students did to create a rape crisis center.
The responsibility of preventing sexual assault on campus does not fall on the shoulders of students only; schools must play their part as well. Currently, a large majority of schools in this country fail to adequately address sexual assault, but all schools host orientations for incoming freshmen. In this regard, here are 2 things schools should discuss during orientation to prevent sexual assault:
1. Give them a reality check.
In these sessions, it is important to debunk the myths that students may have about sexual assault and rape and make them cognizant of the realities and dangers before they begin their college careers. Many people think that perpetrators commit rapes only once and never do it again. But the data shows the complete opposite — 90% of incidents are committed by serial rapists. In addition, warn them that freshmen are particularly vulnerable because they are unfamiliar with the school and are experimenting with alcohol and drugs to gain acceptance — 50% to 90% of campus rapes involve alcohol.
2. Promote awareness of the resources available to them.
If you offer self-defense classes, let students know about it; or even better, include a self-defense session in orientation. But this reactive approach does not help to end the rape culture. Therefore, another session on consent should also be included. Also, teach them the procedures to follow to report an incident, as well as the state and federal laws regarding sexual assault and misconduct.
In addition, schools need to change their policies and the ways they handle sexual assault. For instance, when a student reports an incident, it is crucial to investigate in a timely manner. Some schools cannot get involved before the local police completes an investigation, but this leaves the victim vulnerable because often times, the perpetrator is still in the vicinity. Schools need to also treat the safety of students as a top priority, not reputation. In one instance at Occidental College, a dean discouraged a student from reporting her rape, telling her to "just enjoy [her] senior year" instead because the process of resolving the issue would be "long and grueling."
In order to end sexual assault, students and faculty alike need to adopt a different mentality — one that places prevention and safety first ahead of reputation and concerns of tediousness. Therefore, as more and more students are entering college, it is not too early to start changing the way we think about sexual assault now.
(For more information and resources, check out the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.)