Campus Rape. How Safe Are You?
Let’s talk about campus rape for a minute.
I’m sure everyone remembers the Rolling Stone article about a University of Virginia student known only as Jackie, who had falsely claimed that she had been gang raped during a party hosted by a fraternity on-campus. Even though Jackie’s story was false, there are many more like hers that aren’t. I wanted to know what was being done to protect students on and off campus, and what the actual statistics looked like regarding campus rape.
Every 2 minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. One out of six American women and one out of seventy-one men have been the victim of an attempted or completed rape at some point in their lifetime, and the United States ranks 6th in the world among countries with the highest rape rates. Data from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that annually, rape costs the U.S. more than any other crime. The totals are approximately $127 billion, followed by assault at $93 million, murder at $71 billion, and drunk driving at about $61 billion. When you break it down it means that each rape costs the United States about $151,423.
According to the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, one in five women has been sexually assaulted while in college. The NAESV then goes on to say that only a small fraction of these rapes are even reported, allowing offenders who typically have multiple victims to escape punishment, which creates an unsafe environment for students. Only 12% of college rape survivors will report their rape to the police. There are also societal influences regarding rape, including the social circles that individuals operate within, behaviors that they deem as socially acceptable, and the individual’s race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. With physically forced sexual assaults that don’t involve drugs or alcohol, The National Institute of Justice says that these societal influences cause an increased likelihood of becoming a victim of campus rape if: the individual experienced a forced sexual assault prior to beginning college, or the individual has been the victim of dating violence since beginning college, or the individual is Hispanic vs. being a white non-Hispanic, and individuals who are considered serial daters since beginning college.
In regards to incapacitated sexual assaults, researchers with the NIJ defined incapacitated as being drunk, under the influence of drugs, passed out, asleep, or otherwise unable to consciously consent to sex. The NIJ states that individuals are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted on-campus if they had previously experienced incapacitated sexual assault, experienced dating violence since beginning college, if they have ever been given a drug without their consent since entering college, if they have started drinking more often since beginning college, if they have reported being often drunk or high during sex, or if they frequently attend parties hosted by fraternities.
When considering campus rape there are several stereotypes that people assume to be true. These include but are not limited to: rapists are always strangers, that people who use drugs or alcohol are unable to know whether they consented or not, that rape only happens in isolated areas, and that women who dress provocatively or act promiscuously are in fact asking to be raped. The UK’s Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre disputes these common myths involving campus rape. According to the CRASAC, 90% of serious sexual offenses are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. They also state that someone who is drunk, drugged, or unconscious cannot legally consent to sex. It is also mentioned that 60% of women are assaulted inside of a public building, and 31% are assaulted inside of their own homes, which decimates the common belief that rape typically occurs in secluded areas. The Coventry also stated that just because a woman dresses provocatively or has multiple partners does not make her okay with unwanted sexual advances.
On the flip side of this, in false rape allegations like the one detailed in Rolling Stone Magazine by a University of Virginia student, society feeds into stereotypes regarding rapists as well. It was easy for the author of Rolling Stone to empathize with the alleged victim and to believe her story because a group of drunken frat boys gang-raping an unsuspecting student seemed legitimate. We hear a lot of cases of campus rape where a female student is assaulted by a member of a fraternity, and this has caused society to view all fraternities as a danger to female students. While fraternities do play a major role in the issue of campus rape, they are not the sole problem.
The NIJ states that while alcohol use is commonly a factor in campus rape, there are many other factors as well, such as sorority membership, having numerous sexual partners, being in your freshman or sophomore year, the day of the week, and attending off-campus parties. Data from the NIJ shows that more than half of sexual assaults against college students took place in off-campus settings. Society assumes that all rapists are monsters or horrible people when in fact, the majority of rapists are respected members of their community. It is also worth noting that being a rapist does not indicate the presence of a psychological disorder, and only a small percentage of rapists actually need psychological treatment or suffer from a mental illness.
In 1957, a sociologist named Eugene Kanin theorized that men used secrecy and the negative stigma attached to rape in order to pressure, coerce, and exploit their female counterparts. According to NPR, in the 1980’s the term ‘date rape’ was coined, and at that time 7.7% of male students stated anonymously that they had either attempted or engaged in rape. Shockingly, when questioned further, none of them viewed their actions as being a crime. Throughout the reported history of campus rape, one thing has always remained constant: the fact that patriarchy saturates campus rape culture.
Unfortunately, the patriarchy that is present on most college campuses exploits the victim’s distress, and also tends to shift the blame for the assault from the perpetrator to the victim, which instills a sense of shame and a decrease in the victim’s image of self-worth. The Hampton Institute states that 90% of campus rapes are perpetrated by about 3% of college men, meaning that if those who commit sexual assault were prosecuted, the number of annual sexual assaults on campus would drop dramatically.
Beginning in 2011 the Obama administration began changing the way that society and the government view campus rape. According to the US Department of Justice, on April 29th, 2011, The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault presented a report titled Not Alone. This report provides schools and colleges with practices and guidelines regarding sexual assault, while also improving communication and transparency with the federal government’s on-campus sexual assault enforcement activities, and holding schools and colleges accountable for confronting sexual assault head on, rather than deferring the responsibility to someone else.
Campus rape is a very real problem within society. The issue of campus rape should not only affect the victim and the perpetrator; it should resonate with society as a whole because it doesn’t only happen to women, or to individuals who abuse drugs or act promiscuously. It can happen to anyone, and it can happen anywhere, even in the nicest of neighborhoods. With the proper education, social advocacy, and reporting, rates of sexual assault on college campuses could be greatly reduced, and victims could be provided with the help and support that they need.
We cannot be silent any longer. It’s time to talk about it.