This week’s post is published over at the incredible Everyday Feminism.
On every single college campus in the United States, there is a powerful, committed group of feminists and feminist allies who are working to prevent sexual violence and respond to the needs of survivors.
These incredible coalitions of students, professors, staff, administrators, and wider community members are working every single day to ensure that survivors have the support they need while working to prevent further sexual assaults.
Too often, though, they are working against institutions and campus environments that shame survivors, protect perpetrators, and reinforce the rape culture that is endemic in our society.
The grim reality is that at least 1 in 4 college women are survivors of sexual violence, and our institutions are not doing enough to stem this terrible tide.
It is time that more of us join these committed activists in transforming the culture and climate of our college and university campuses.
Whether you’re a parent, a student, an alumni, or simply a concerned community member, here are a few ways that you help:
1. Change How We Talk About Sexual Violence
The messages that are sent to women and men about sexual violence on college campuses tend to be misguided at best and downright dangerous at worst.
Whether the message is delivered formally through a New Student Orientation program or through norms and mores, the traditional wisdom for sexual violence prevention on college campuses can often be boiled down to:
“Ladies, be careful so you don’t get raped.”
Whether we tell women to go out in groups, watch their drinks, or never walk across campus alone at night, the conversation is the same – the responsibility for preventing sexual violence is on women.
But considering that the VAST majority of rapes are committed by men, we can’t afford to leave men out of the conversation!
To place the responsibility for sexual violence prevention on women not only completely ignores those who perpetrate the majority of sexual assaults, but it lends itself to victim blaming.
“You shouldn’t have been dressed that way.” “You shouldn’t have gone out alone.” “You shouldn’t have been drinking.”
Thus, in both our informal conversations and as we look to change how our institutions address sexual violence, we must shift the conversation to ones of positive sexuality, enthusiastic consent, healthy masculinity, and support for survivors.
First, if sex and sexuality is talked about openly and honestly, we can begin to have more accountable conversations regarding positive sexuality.
We can introduce the ideas behind and methods for realizing enthusiastic consent. We can encourage healthier relationships and healthier sexuality in all their forms. So that people of all genders understand what healthy and consensual sexual relationships can and should look like,
Secondly, we must also end the culture of male sexual entitlement, disrespect, cat calling, and objectification that protects perpetrators of sexual violence.
Men, women have been trying to tell us these things for ages. It’s time for us to be the leaders in ending sexual violence. We, as men, need to work with other men to change how we talk about and practice sex.
Third, we need to change how we talk about sexual violence so that it reflects reality and not myths about rape.
A good place to start is changing where we place the onus for prevention. The only person responsible for a sexual assault is the perpetrator. Plain and simple. From there, we can do a better job of supporting those who experience sexual assault.
Finally, we have to make sure that our conversations don’t accidentally silence survivors who don’t fit our understanding of “normal.” Any person of any gender or any sexual orientation can experience sexual violence. 50% of transgender peopleexperience sexual violence and approximately 8% of all men (by conservative estimates) are raped by a former partner.
Often, conversations around rape focus solely on straight relationships, but lesbian, gay, and bisexual people commonly experience sexual violence too. Further, 1 in 10 survivors of sexual violence are men, and we need to have resources that support male survivors.
Lastly, we need to expand the conversation around sexual violence beyond rape (forced sexual intercourse, including vaginal, anal, or oral penetration) to other types of unwanted sexual contact and coercive sexual activity (including forced kissing, groping, forced hand jobs, non-consensual kissing, etc).
Otherwise, those who experience sexual violence that they would not call rape may feel like their experience is not legitimate or worthy of attention. But they often still experience trauma like rape survivors because it was still not consensual.
In short, we can make our conversations more inclusive, and we can push to make our campus programming more inclusive.
2. Transform Party Culture