Ending Sexual Assault on Campus
Talks with S
The discussion that I wish to delve in today’s blog is something that although I do not have first hand experience on, is nevertheless very close to my heart. Anything I comment hereafter is my personal opinion, and I do not intend to hurt or disrespect anyone’s feelings.
The Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, in About Sexual Assault, states, “Sexual assault is any sexual activity that is against another person’s will including: rape (attempted rape), sodomy/aggravated sodomy, child molestation, fondling, sexual harassment, indecent exposure, stalking, peeping toms, sexual battery.” This issue of sexual assault or sexual violence is a serious campus and public health issue (ACHA Guidelines 5). The ACHA in Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence talks about how student’s academic success and health can be impacted, and how victimized students can feel disempowered and alienated, if college campuses are unable to provide an atmosphere where students can feel safe (5).
When I came to the U.S from India to attend college, I was unfortunately very well versed with the notion of rape. Every morning when I would open the newspapers in India, there were at least a few articles on how girls were raped in the city the day or night before. My hometown- Delhi, the national capital of India, is known to be an unsafe city for women. Often students from other cities of India studying at Emory joke, “you come from the city of rape”, when I mention which city I am from. Since this was reality, and nothing concrete was being done about it, women all over Delhi took personal precautions to safeguard themselves. We all lived life as normal as any other individual in any other city, however, additionally took certain steps to ensure our safety. This included girls returning to their homes before it got too dark, girls wearing clothing that was considered “appropriate” and not something that would expose too much skin, and also never to take public transport alone, etc. The government’s take on such issues was that girls should follow the above steps, as they should “respect” themselves and avoid situations to tempt men. Women were victimized and it was taken for granted that “men will be men,” and thus we as women took the appropriate steps to take care of ourselves. Therefore, prevention never included the involvement of men back home. Traditionally, even in the U.S, men were never included in the efforts to combat the problems of sexual assault. The ACHA Guidelines encourage the involvement of men in every step to combat the issue of sexual assault. “Most guys don’t commit rape, but every guy can play a role in ending sexual and dating violence” (ACHA Guidelines 14). It encourages men to define their own “manhood” and thereby build a strong character that respects women. This guideline also encourages men to “speak up” and not let their peers joke about rape. It is believed that this can change male’s perception of social norms of “masculinity”, as “men [are said to] have powerful influences on male peers” (ACHA Guidelines 14 & 16).
There is a traditional myth that women are mostly raped by strangers or unknown individuals. The ACHA in Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence, states, “friends and acquaintances commit between 80[%] and 90% of the sexual assaults against women on college campuses” (16). Thus, the involvement of not only women, but also men can have a significant impact in reduction of friend (or acquaintance) rape by encouraging both women and men to attend primary prevention education sessions. These education programs aim to “prevent first-time perpetration or victimization by improving knowledge and attitudes that correspond to the origins of sexual violence (such as adherence to social norms, male superiority, male sexual entitlement), build skills for respectful interactions, and empower participants to become agents of change (ACHA Guidelines 7 & 8).
Although when back home in India, I had heard of women and children getting raped, I had never heard of men getting raped. When I came to Emory, my perception of rape and sexual assault (and all the notions surrounding it) gradually changed. The mandatory PE 101 Health class that I had to take as a freshman, and then joining SAPA- Sexual Assault Peer Advocates, to support it’s founder and president Anushka Kapoor, were instrumental in the inclusion of the ideology that “men also get raped.” Ms. Kapoor in her interview with Her Campus Emory, states, “National statistics tell us that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 33 men are sexually assaulted by the end of their college careers.” Other statistics state,“10-20 percent of all males will be sexually violated at some point in their lifetimes” (MSCASA). The question then that came to my mind was that why did I never hear of a male getting assaulted in India, and why have I heard of extremely rare cases of males getting assaulted in the U.S as well? According to Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault,
“They [male victims of sexual assault] fear being ignored, laughed at, disbelieved, shamed, accused of weakness, or questioned about being gay. Perhaps worst of all, men fear being blamed for the assault because they were not “man enough” to protect themselves in the face of an attack. For all these reasons, many male survivors remain silent and alone rather than risk further violation by those around them.”
I then begin to wonder why this extremely comprehensive and useful guide by the American College Health Association is written only from the point of view of a “heterosexual” sexual assault scenario -a male assaulting a female- in college. What about males assaulting other males, females assaulting males, and females assaulting other females? Guidelines need to be specifically designed to include different actions that can be taken for different scenarios.
At the end of the day, any kind of sexual activity- involving any individual of any sexual identity, gender or sexual orientation- requires “consent” and at every level of sexual intimacy. Consent is a “voluntary, sober, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal agreement. Consent is an active agreement; Consent cannot be coerced” (ACHA Guidelines 15). This consent needs to be “acquired” from one’s sexual partner before every sexual action, even if the sexual act has been performed before. In addition, this “approval” needs to be attained without incapacitation of alcohol or other drugs, pressure, force, threat or intimidation, and an “implied yes” is not acceptable (ACHA Guidelines 5 & 15). The ACHA in Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence, states, “Approximately 50-70% of all sexual assaults involve alcohol” (19). Friends (or acquaintances) and “assaulters” blame the act of sexual assault on alcohol. While friends may blame the victim as “having asked for it”, offenders use it as a justification. This has lead to the occurrence of the “unwanted”, “pressured” and “regretted” type of sexual activities to exist on campus (ACHA Guidelines 19). To avoid such unintended scenarios, the domains of influence of potential victims, perpetrators and bystanders should be included in sexual violence prevention activities (ACHA Guidelines 5).
The ACHA Guideline is an essential tool kit that should be a required reading material for every entering freshman at college. This guideline talks about several recommended actions that can be taken by the faculty, staff, administrators, and students in the creation of a safe campus culture (ACHA Guidelines 5). It also talks about bystanders who act as catalysts to address, prevent and intervene in the fight to end sexual violence on college campuses. The Emory Student Health Department officials, Ms. Lauren Bernstein (Coordinator of Sexual and Relationship Violence Prevention Education and Response at Emory), SAPA trained peer advocates, and ASAP students, provide useful on- campus support services to victims and friends or acquaintances of victims. These resources should be availed if needed. Spread the word.
American College Health Association (ACHA Guidelines). “Shifting the Paradigm: Primary Prevention of Sexual Violence”
Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault (GNESA). “About Sexual Assault”http://gnesa.org/about-sexual-assault
Her Campus Emory. “Anushka Kapoor’13 SAPA President” 14th November 2012. http://www.hercampus.com/school/emory/anushka-kapoor-13-sapa-president
Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MSCASA) “Male Sexual Assault” http://www.mscasa.org/what-we-do/male-sexual-assault/
Student Health Emory. “Alliance for Sexual Assault Prevention” http://studenthealth.emory.edu/hp/get_involved/asap.html
Student Health Emory. “Sexual Assault Peer Advocates” http://studenthealth.emory.edu/hp/get_involved/sapa.html