COLUMN: Do your part, be informed and fight against sexual assault
On more than one occasion in the past year as a journalist, I’ve spoken to and written stories about sexual assault survivors. It forced me to grow up a lot.
Interviewing people about the worst, most traumatic event of their lives, was difficult but necessary. It opened my eyes to a reality I wasn’t aware of.
As a young woman and college student, I obviously was aware that sexual assault was a threat to me. I knew that a few women close to me had been assaulted. I knew what rape culture was, or what the very basics of it was.
It wasn’t until I sat down and listened to multiple people cry as they described the horror of an assault, but also the aftermath of not being believed – fighting to get someone to listen to them – that I truly grasped how severe the issue was.
In 2019, most of us living in the U.S. are aware sexual assault, harassment and abuse are huge issues in our country. After the #MeToo movement, more people than ever know this is an awful reality for millions of people. We’re all painfully aware of it now, but that doesn’t mean the problem is getting any better yet, on college campuses especially.
More than 11 percent of all college students experience sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. College women ages 18-24 are three times more likely than all women to be sexually assaulted.
Sexual assault is more prevalent on college campuses than other crimes are— college women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than robbed, according to RAINN.
What’s even more shocking than those numbers is that more often than not, college-aged victims of sexual violence of any kind don’t report the incident to law enforcement. A lot of sexual assaults go unreported in general, but it’s even more common at college. According to RAINN, about 20 percent of women victims ages 18-24 report to law enforcement, whereas about 32 percent of non-student women the same ages report.
While it’s sad that a lot of survivors in college don’t report to law enforcement, it’s not surprising. The rape culture mindset in our society is intensified at college, a place where thousands of young adults are living on their own for the first time, exposed to alcohol, drugs and circumstances they’ve probably never dealt with before.
Women are told to be careful when they go out— don’t wear anything too short, tight or revealing, don’t drink too much, don’t accept a drink from anyone you don’t know, or anyone for that matter. The list of things women in college are told not to do or to be careful of is astounding. Where’s the list for men? We don’t sit men down before they go to college and tell them about all the things they need to be careful of when they go out, because there really aren’t any. They can go out without a care in the world — I have guy friends who often go out to the bars or to a party by themselves. I would never dream of going out without at least one other friend, that goes against all the advice I’ve been given my entire life.
It’s not fair that we live in a society where rape culture is so ingrained in us and in the way we treat women and men differently, but I believe it is slowly changing. Having open, honest and frequent conversations about sexual assault and victim-blaming is a huge part of how to address the issue. It’s happening a lot more often in day-to-day life than it was 10 years ago, or even five years ago. The fact that we can have dialogue in the media and around the world about these issues is amazing in itself, because it wasn’t always possible.
We need to keep that dialogue going. We need more and more people to understand the issues, get pissed off, and do something to fight it. Sticking your head in the sand and pretending that it’s not happening isn’t working.
So what can you do?
Get informed about issues like sexual assault, harassment and rape culture. If you’re a student, find out how your college or university addresses sexual misconduct. Do you agree with it? If not, make your voice heard.
Most importantly, be there for the survivors in your life. You might think you don’t know any, but you probably do. So just be an advocate. Make it known that you are aware of these issues and you support survivors.
By simply being informed, empathetic and there to talk to if a survivor should need it, you are doing something positive. You can make a difference.