February 19, 2016

Sexual Assault on College Campuses—When Higher Education Reaches New Lows

It seems that the life of a typical American college student today presents more risks now than ever. While tales of hazing or illegal drug use remain eminent issues among students, the concern of sexual assault and misconduct continuously emerges to the forefront of the discourse on campuses across the country.

In a national survey of 27 universities from the Association of American Universities, 23% of female undergraduate students reported experiencing sexual assault since enrollment in college. Despite this statistic, less than 28% of all serious offenses (including rape) were brought to the attention of university Title IX offices. The September 2015 survey defined sexual assault to include “sexual harassment, stalking, and intimate partner violence,” “nonconsensual penetration,” and “nonconsensual touching.”[1] The most staggering reality from the report is that the most serious assaults involve drug and alcohol consumption. Ultimately, this implies that victims might not regard instances of sexual assault as serious and instead brush them off for fear of blame or underage drinking charges.

You may be asking the same question I am—why now? What factors in the campus environment are contributing to this spike in cases of sexual misconduct, many of which go unnoticed? That answer is multi-fold.

An additional study entitled “College Party Culture and Sexual Assault” found that accounts of sexual assault were significantly higher on game days.[2] This report from the National Bureau of Economic Research cites the pervasiveness of alcohol use as the source. In theory, there is nothing inherently wrong with celebrating before, during, or after a big football game; I would personally argue that it’s inevitable and simply a part of the culture. It is doing so responsibly that matters, and that approach is something campuses can promote. The phrase “It’s On Us” from the federal government’s national campaign urges entire campus communities to be vigilant, supportive bystanders. Situations that stand out as threatening to your peers are ones that you should help mediate instead of looking the other way. Being part of the solution—whether male or female—is the kind of attitude the campus population is called on to adopt so as to prevent sexual assault.

College students should be safe from sexual assault, and the factors that contribute to campus sexual assault must be recognized. Students should not have to live in trepidation, and administrators must not remain ignorant of the damaging effects of a campus culture that fosters sexual assault.

That is why the University of Chicago’s Sex Week agenda is a preposterous initiative. With College_Campus_Factor_SexualAssaultevents like ‘Bondage 101’ and ‘The Magical World of Porn,’ the multi-organization sponsored event claims to start a conversation about everything related to sex and sexuality. The university considers an event that explores porn to be an educational resource. The university’s office on Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention claims to host interactive educational workshops and activities, all while its mission is to work toward the elimination of sexual violence. To me, it is simply illogical: why would institutions of higher learning encourage the exploration of risky sexual behavior—merely for the sake of sexual expression—when rates of sexual assault are more prevalent than ever? How could Sex Week events possibly be an effective and helpful means to combat this issue? They must not know the facts.

Pornography Fosters a Culture of Sexual Assault

The presence of porn in members of Greek life was shown to correspond with unwanted sexual behavior. An article from the Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity journal found that fraternity men who consume mainstream pornography express a greater intent to commit rape. More than that, consumers of sadomasochistic pornography expressed less willingness to intervene in assault situations and an increased intent to commit rape.[3] Overall, all variations of pornography viewing were linked to rape intentions. This is not to discount the beneficial aspects of campus Greek life involvement, but rather a signal for an attitudinal shift towards women, in particular, at the group level.

There have been countless updates on this developing campus issue. From the creation of smartphone apps like Rave Guardian to student-led protest movements (most notably at Columbia University) to Lady Gaga’s Oscar-nominated song “Til It Happens To You” highlighting the struggle of campus rape victims, the culture surrounding sexual misconduct is thankfully getting major attention by university administrators and the public alike. And steps are being taken to better grasp students’ concerns and fears to increase awareness and strengthen policies, such as the administering of campus climate surveys and hiring of Title IX officers.

The ubiquity of sexual assault behooves college students, regardless of gender or religious affiliation, to take a stand against sexual misconduct. Colleges nationwide are launching their own versions of the White House’s “It’s On Us” campaign. The tide is changing, but only with the aid of all members of a college community—that includes administration ensuring college events that refrain from promoting damaging sexual advice, as well as the student population supporting one another should situations appear dangerous or even questionable.

 


 

[1] Baskin, Morgan. “Controversial 1-in-5 Sexual Assault Statistic Validated in New National Survey.” USA TODAY College. September 21, 2015. http://college.usatoday.com/2015/09/21/controversial-1-in-5-sexual-assault-statistic-validated-in-new-national-survey/.

[2] Deutsch, Jillian. “Study: Sexual Assault Reports Jump 28% on College Game Days.” USA TODAY College. January 22, 2016. http://college.usatoday.com/2016/01/22/study-sexual-assault-reports-jump-28-on-college-game-days/.

[3] Foubert, John D., Matthew W. Brosi, and R. Sean Bannon. “Pornography Viewing among Fraternity Men: Effects on Bystander Intervention, Rape Myth Acceptance and Behavioral Intent to Commit Sexual Assault.” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 18, no. 4 (2011): 212-31.

Marie Coussa

Marie Coussa is a Communications Intern at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.  Currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology at the Catholic University of America, she hopes to transition into communications and marketing for non-profit organizations upon graduation in 2016.  Marie is passionate about humanitarian efforts and is especially excited to contribute to NCOSE’s work to end an important public health crisis.  When not working on NCOSE’s campaigns, you can find Marie cooking up a storm or trying to pet every dog she sees on the street.

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