The Rape Culture and College Campuses
Every fall, hundreds of parents stuff cardboard boxes full of clothes, dorm room decorations and school supplies in the back of their cars and move their children to their chosen college. But for some, as they weave their ways through the college apartments and houses, they see lewd signs that tell parents to “drop freshman girls off here” or urging underage girls to come drink and perform sex acts inside.
While some people write these signs off as silly college jokes, students and parents alike are taking offense to these harsh suggestions that promote the rape culture. “The term [rape culture] is entirely relevant today, as we are dealing with continued high rates of sexual assault nationwide and new avenues to access victims and to victimize through social media,” said Jill Patterson, Title IX Coordinator at Missouri State University.
Sexual assaults and rape on campus is a huge threat to college students nationwide. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), 11.2 percent of all college students experience rape or sexual violence. For undergraduate students in particular, 23.1 percent of all female students and 5.4 percent of all male students have reported rape or sexual assault. Most of these attacks happen during the first few months of the first and second semesters away at college.
Victim blaming and deflecting from the attacker are huge issues when it comes to rape culture. Back in January 2015, Stanford University student Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman at a fraternity party. He was caught by two other students, who detained him until police could come to arrest him. The victim didn’t know what had happened until she woke up in a hospital room and learned the details of her rape.
Turner had a highly publicized and controversial trial. At one point, his father wrote in a letter about the potential sentence, “That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” He was eventually given a sentence of six months of jail time, but he only served three of those months before being released. The reason for such a short sentence was from seeing Turner simply as a promising young athlete who made one bad decision at one party.
This type of thinking is a main cause of rape culture. By deflecting the blame from the assailant, it gives them the excuse to do it again or to not take their crimes as seriously as they should. It also perpetuates victim blaming because if it isn’t the attackers’ fault then it must be the victims’ for drinking too much or wearing something too revealing or a mirage of other excuses that make a victim feel like an attack is their fault.
“I think it's crucial that we stop treating our victims as if they deserved this,” said India Brelsford, a student at Wichita State University. “Because of how they dressed, or acted, or looked, or spoke--no one under any circumstances deserves to be sexually assaulted or abused.”
In another rape case a Massachusetts teen, David Becker, was found guilty of sexually assaulting two classmates about a year ago. He was able to get off without serving any time. Instead he received two-year’s probation and was asked to stay drug and alcohol free, and to stay away from his victims according to a published report.
The decision came on the heels of the Turner’s sentence. Becker,18, received a slap on the wrist for raping not one but two teen girls. To add insult to injury – literally -- he received a proverbial high five from his attorney, Thomas Rooke, who said now the three-sport athlete can go on and look forward to the college experience.”
“When you let a male or female off the hook that has sexually abused another student on campus, you belittle the student that was harmed and then they go on to feel unsafe,” Belsford said. “We need an environment where students feel as if they can admit these things afterwards, so we can take safety precautions in the future, and make sure these students doing harm are no longer on our campus, or charged for their wrong-doing.”
Title IX offices have popped up on campuses to give students, faculty and staff a place to go to when they have issues regarding discrimination, sexual assaults, or other topics that fall under Title IX. Students are seeing more efforts by colleges to keep them safe. Brelsford spoke about the things that Wichita State University has done to help all of their students handle sexual assaults and rape culture on campus.
“We’ve had several events bringing awareness to sexual assault and rape as a whole,” Brelsford said. “We've also shown documentaries such as ‘The Hunting Ground.’ If you are a victim, they make it well known that there are several ways to get help, and they make you feel welcome and loved regardless of the situation. We also have different student organizations that work to raise money for these issues for the community.”
Several colleges have also adapted programs that are meant to create safer environments for their students and stop attacks before they happen. At Northwest Missouri State University, they adapted a system called Green Dot. The Assistant Director of Wellness Services at NW Missouri State, Boyd K. Taylor, explained that Green Dot’s mainpurposes were to get rid of violence and assaults that take place on their campus.
The Green Dot system uses “green dots” and “red dots.” A red dot is an indicator of violence or rape that takes place on campus. A green dot underscores ways to combat the violent acts either through spreading the word or taking necessary steps to make sure someone isn’t put in an unsafe situation. The goal is for green dots to crowd out the red dots.
“It takes everyone to create a system on campus to get rid of rape culture,” Taylor said. “We have educators and staff and students who all have to work together to actually make the Green Dot program work.”
Although difficult, many colleges are trying to create a safer environment for their students. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Rape culture is still prevalent on campus and in society.
“If you consider that the statistics have changed little since the 1970’s in terms of the number of college students who have been victimized by a sexual assault, it is clear that most of the work is still ahead of us,” Patterson said.
To put this into perspective, out of every 1000 rapes – on and off campus – 994 perpetrators will walk free. RAINN breaks it down like this: Of the 1000 rapes, 310 are reported to the police; 57 reports lead to arrest; 11 cases get referred to prosecutors; 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction; and 6 rapists will be incarcerated.