On a serious note.. Rape Culture on College Campuses.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, so take a few minutes to get educated on our societies reality.
Rape Culture on College Campuses: It Matters
In America, rape is the most underreported crime, and there is no surprise why. According to RAINN only 230 rapes are reported out of 1000. Out of those, only 46 perpetrators get arrested, five will lead to a felony conviction, while only 4.5 get incarcerated. This means that 995/1000 perpetrators walk free. Although there could be numerous factors in why reporting rates of rape are so low, there is no doubt it impacts these statistics. Statistics prove that robberies and battery crimes are highly reported, possibly because there is a stigma around discussing rape and sexual assault. Sexual violence is a recurring issue in our society, and there should be a stable system in place to protect and correctly identify victims and the accused. Rape and sexual assault are prevalent, specifically on college campuses, and it must be taken more seriously.
College is said to be the best time in our life, while it is also when young adults are the most vulnerable. Statistics prove that college aged students are the most prone to experiencing sexual violence. The statistic that one in five women will be raped in college has been circulated through numerous sources and even mentioned by former President Obama. Although this statistic is alarming, research is debunking it. Sexual violence is an issue on college campuses and in society, but the lines are blurred around the definition of sexual violence. Evan Gerstmann of Forbes shares an example of a 10 year old Texas student who pantsed another student and was punished by being added to the online sex offender database for 10 years. Instances like this make it hard for real victims to be heard and respected, when this is a real issue. Sexual violence is defined as “sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act by violence or coercion, acts to traffic a person or acts directed against a person's sexuality, regardless of the relationship to the victim”. With this definition, victims, perpetrators, and the justice system should take proper action to create a better foundation to end sexual violence.
While the one in five statistic is being discredited, a recent study by students from the University of Arkansas are researching factors such as age, race, Greek life, and overall atmosphere to determine rape characteristics across campuses. Their research found that 11% of college females will be raped and one in three of those will occur in a fraternity house. They also discovered that in general, male athletes displayed the highest levels of perpetration and at Division 1 schools, 19% of rape was performed by football and basketball players. It might not be one in five college females, but any percentage of rape or sexual assault is too high.
Some might argue that rape and sexual assault is not always something that one can prove, with false accusations being presented daily. It might even be considered that someone is seeking vengeance and wants to falsely accuse someone, in order to get back at them. Institutions, such as first responders and the FBI are aware of false accusations. False accusations of rape and sexual assault can be harmful for the accused, causing damage to their reputation or possibly careers/education, and as well as proven rape victims, as this is can be discrediting to an entire community. When sexual violence is reported, it is the person in authorities job to assume these allegations are truthful, which causes a guilty until proven innocent approach. Police departments have recently gotten access to a new innovation called the CVSA, Computer Voice Stress Analyzer. The CVSA is a way to give the accused perpetrator a voice, when it is one person against the other. The CVSA works by identifying markers of stress in the human voice. The muscles vibrate naturally when we are in homeostasis and when we are stressed our muscles move at a faster rate. This helps the examiner identify which questions caused stress. This test is similar to a polygraph, which measures breathing, respiration and perspiration. With a combination of the CVSA test and polygraphs, it can be insured that only the guilty are accused and justice is served.
A case that mocks the extremity of sexual violence, is the Brock Turner Stanford rape case. In 2016, Brock Turner, a former Stanford University swimmer, was sentenced to 6 months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious women. Turner’s lawyer, Eric Multhaup, stated that Brock was only seeking ‘outercourse’ and that he was tried unfairly due to insufficient evidence and the exclusion of character witnesses. Outercourse is any sexual act other than vaginal penetration. The victim, Chanel Miller, was blacked out at a campus party when Brock Turner sexually assaulted her. Regardless, Brock Turner was proven to be aware of her unconsciousness and still made sexual advances. The case states that if he was not removed from on top of her, he would’ve raped Miller. He was sentenced to six months in jail and got out early after serving three short months with probation. Miller spoke out stating that “assault is not an accident” and went on to write the book Know My Name. The court case files of Brock Allen Turner vs. People are available online. The documents contain the Sheriff’s report, testimonials such as a letter addressing Brock Turner’s character from both his sister and his high school counselor, exhibits, sentencing, and court explanations as well. This case of sexual assault displays how it affects peoples’ lives and that sexual violence needs to be taken more seriously. This is a concrete example of the role gender plays in court cases concerning sexual violence and the unfair consequences associated between victims and perpetrators.
At Columbia University in 2015, the “Carry That Weight” sexual assault case is one for the books. Senior, Emma Sulkowicz, of Columbia was raped her sophomore year in college by Paul Nungesser, who got cleared of all charges in a school hearing. Sulkowicz then carried her dorm room mattress around campus for the rest of her college career and stated that she would continue to carry it until she didn’t attend the same school as her rapist, whether this was one day or until graduation. This went on until she graduated and she carried her mattress across the graduation stage because Nungesser was never convicted and walked for graduation the same day as her. He sued Columbia for “allowing this harassment case to continue” and for “ruining his college experience,'' as expressed by him and his family. Something that he could have considered is how this affected her college years, she dedicated her experience to getting justice for herself, and had to ‘carry that weight’ with her through college and for the rest of her life. Columbia denied to comment on this case. The “Carry That Weight” case is one of many sexual assaults that the perpetrator got off with no charges from. This is also an example of how men handle the repercussions of their actions when they rape someone. Nungesser raped someone, he still victimized himself, and Columbia did nothing about it; he walked free. Colleges, in this case Columbia, do not take sexual assault seriously and cannot handle the repercussions that come with rape on college campuses.
Education is a privilege, but feeling safe at school shouldn’t be. Laws, rules, regulations, and programs are a good way to implement an anti-assault atmosphere on college campuses. Cases of sexual assault bring health concerns directly to victims of sexual assault, such as physical danger, pregnancy, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), and many mental health issues. Student survivors of sexual violence have more often been proven to drop out/drop classes, decrease in academic levels, and develop depression, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), eating disorders, among many other health related issues. Sexual violence also affects universities safety and reputation, credibility, and administration, alumni, and students. This is why it is increasingly important to treat sexual violence cases with urgency and importance. Title IX was introduced to prevent discrimination of any individual in an educational program and was created as a civil rights act to help students and prohibits discrimination of sex. This anti-gender discrimination law applies to all aspects of school, academics, sports and student life. This relates to sexual assault, because in recent years it has been more targeted towards sexual violence cases. Title IX ensures the safety of the victim, publish notices of nondiscrimination, and provides contact information for the Title IX coordinator on campus, regardless of gender. In 1990, a law was created that requires all two and four year universities to report all crime and campus security. These laws among many others are the beginning foundation to ensure educational safety.
A recent case of sexual assault being pushed under the table, was in the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Larry Nassar is the former physician for the USA gymnastics team who was exposed and sentenced in 2018. Over 200 women and athletes accused Nassar of sexual assault while he worked for USA gymnastics and Michigan State University. Nassar at the end of the trial was sentenced to 40 to 125 years in prison. Michigan State University received hundreds of reports against Nassar, which they later denied that they had any information about in a video compilation of victims testifying. This is one example of how colleges ignore sexual violence cases. The reasons for why they treat these cases with so little importance is hard to determine, but possibly they are trying to save face. They sweep cases under the rug to not look bad, but when the ignored reality goes public, it looks even worse. No one wants to go to a university that doesn’t take their health and safety seriously. Also featured in this video was multiple victims and their parents giving statements. They told the stories of how Nassar had been sexually abusing them since they were adolescents until they were young adults. He would tell them not to tell anyone about his treatment plan, because they “wouldn’t understand”. Some of the girls told their parents at a young age, but Larry convinced their parents that they were lying.
One victim that stands out among all of them is Olympic Gold Medalist McKayla Maroney. She stated that he abused her hundreds of times and this started when she saw him for a check up for the first time at age 13. She was paid over a million dollars to not speak out and keep the incidences silent. She now has a Dateline special out called “Silent No More”, where she discusses in detail her experience. This case of sexual assault brings light to the severity of sexual assault. Michigan State University and the Olympic committee did not handle this situation with seriousness, resulting in hundreds more women being affected. Colleges and anyone with knowledge and power of this magnitude, should take immediate, serious legislative action.
Not only are victims let down by colleges and society, but also by our judicial system. A sexual assault survivor put her story out on YouTube with NowThis News. She explained that the court process after her rape took 4 years to complete, even with a completed rape kit and video evidence. Her perpetrator took videos of him having sex with her while she was incapacitated. After she saw the videos she went and got a rape kit, also known as a sexual assault forensic exam done. RAINN explains that an actual rape kit is the tools such as, bags and paper sheets for evidence collection, a comb, documentation forms, envelopes, instructions, materials for blood samples, and swabs. A sexual assault forensic exam can take multiple hours and is very detailed. Often it starts with questions, then a head-to-toe examination, which can include photos, and follow up care. The victim in the video explains the horrific process of getting a rape kit, as well as dealing with the judicial system for four years. She had to wait six months for her case to get picked up and the court hearing kept getting postponed. She stated that personal investigators would follow her to work and had to switch DAs (District Attorneys) four times. At the end of it her rapist only received six years of jail time. She shared her story, not to discourage victims from speaking up, but to share the reality of how sexual assault and rape is handled in court. This is one factor in why reporting rates are so low. Society and specifically the judicial system should make reporting more accepted and easier to access.
The astonishing fact that on average 5/1000 perpetrators are put behind bars is a reality, society cannot be surprised that reporting rates are so low. There are numerous reasons why reporting rates can be so low, as rape and sexual assault is case by case, with all of them being different. Some victims reported that they were worried about retaliation from their abuser or society. Survivors also stated that they felt the police wouldn’t help them or that sexual violence wasn’t important enough to report. Sadly, these factors are not unreasonable. Unless there is prestige involved, such as Stanford University or the Olympics, sexual violence is not taken seriously, causing those affected to suffer.
A solution to help victims and the accused alike is simply education and judicial reform. It has become increasingly popular for schools to take on the responsibility of handling sexual assault cases in college, for faster resolutions. The court process can take months, even years, so victims can get a faster solution if they handle cases through their school. The problem with this is that schools have no ability to take real legal action, such as jail time, probation, or registering as a sexual offender, etc. Instead sexual assault is taken even more lightly. Perpetrators then are taught that this is a minor offense and suspension or expulsion is all this offense is worthy of. Some rapists are only forced to take a minor break from their education and can return to their original school, while victims live with this for the rest of their life and feel unsafe at school when their rapist returns. This leads to more cases of sexual assault, and victims transferring colleges, when they were at no fault of their own.
So what is the solution? Colleges have begun to put anti-abuse posters in the bathrooms, at Sierra College. These posters include examples of what consent is and contact information to talk to a counselor, which aligns with Title IX. Schools could begin to take sexual assault seriously, since legal action is extensive, time and money wise. Schools could administer Polygraph tests to both the victims and accused, as well as a review board that should determine the truth behind situations. Schools should offer resources for victims to get rape kits, that are tested immediately, and used while determining punishment. If the accused are determined to be guilty, they should indefinitely be expelled and have this indicated on their transcripts. It would then be up to the University to help the victim to pursue legal action if desired. If the accused is determined to be not guilty, and the victim was falsely accusing them, they should also receive punishment. Sexual assault from both ends should be taken seriously, as it affects many people. Education on sexual assault, sex, and consent should begin when sex education courses begin. If females are of age to get pregnant they should learn how to protect themselves and respect others. This goes for males as well, if they are going to be involved in sex, consent for themselves and their partners should be taught. Sex education courses should be taught coed from a younger age, since this is vital information. Sex education and the way sexual violence cases are handled, needs reform.
In 2019, rape is underreported, looked past, and socially pushed to the side. Schools and other institutions cover up rape and sexual assault, making victims feel ashamed to speak out. The small majority of cases that get reported are treated with little respect or urgency. Even with substantial evidence, rapists receive minor sentences and more sympathy than the victims. Society as a whole, along with college campuses, need to treat sexual violence with more extremity and support survivors.
Let's talk.. Comment if you have any thoughts below. Not mentioned in my essay, is the diversity of gender in this... I know women are not the only victims, but they are the majority.
This is a modified version of my research paper on sexual violence and how it is not taken seriously on college campuses. If you or anyone you know have struggled with this feel free to reach out on Instagram @kennys.korner.
You can also call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673