Studies approximate that one in four college women will become the victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault by the time they graduate.
Take a look around you.
This means that about a quarter of the young women you know who currently attend college will experience one of the most damaging forms of violence that someone can inflict upon another person.
Hits a little closer to home when you place these statistics in a personal context, doesn’t it? Becomes more terrifying when you think of these women not just as victims or even survivors of a crime but as little sisters, older sisters, cousins, and close friends, right? Right.
I have friends in college who’ve faced sexual assault, and I can say is that there are few experiences more jarring than comforting someone you care about and love as they describe an instance that has traumatized them — leaving mental and emotional scars that will take years of work to ease and probably will never fully erase from their memories.
When I have watched my friends cry because they felt violated, I have felt powerless. Absolutely powerless.
And it makes me so mad.
It makes me so mad that there is nothing I can do for these friends but talk to them when they need me and help them work through it to the best of my ability. When I think about all of the survivors out there who haven’t talked about their sexual assaults to any of their friends — for whatever reason — and subsequently have no one to help them through one of the darkest times of their lives, my stomach turns.
It makes me so mad that there are countless survivors out there who have not reported their sexual assaults because they are afraid of a system that feels like it is working against them.
It makes me so mad that rape culture even exists in the first place, but it makes me madder that there are those out there who attempt to deny that it is a problem.
When I read an article like the op-ed published in the UW-Madison’s student newspaper — from a college student who is around my age and probably not unlike many with whom I’ve personally interacted — I get so mad that I cannot sit its author down and make him realize that, yes, rape culture exists and, yes, it is a problem. I wish that I could make him, as well as those who share the same sentiments, understand that women do not lie about rape because they are “so desperate to demonize men” with the frequency that he implies.
What makes me mad most of all is that our culture and our society places the onus on would-be victims to lessen their chances of sexual assault by avoiding excessive drinking and overly provocative clothing. These are, after all, prime vices for women in college.
Alcohol consumption, clothing choice, and other external factors do not and should not matter.
Someone could be walking down the side of the street, completely inebriated and wearing only her underwear, and anyone who takes advantage of her is still in the wrong.
Her intoxicated “yes” — uttered when she is not in the right state of mind, when she is so drunk that she can barely slur her own name — does not actually suggest consent.
Her choice in clothing — regardless of how form fitting or short it is — is not an open invitation or an indication that she is asking for it.
Most suggestions otherwise attempt to Band-Aid over this sexual assault problem rather than addressing the issues at its core — healing the wounds that bleed an unfortunately large number of college women dry.
For example, in Emily Yoffe’s Slate article earlier this month (a piece I refuse to hate-link), she offered advice specifically to college women: urging them to avoid drinking in order to diminish their chances of becoming sexually assaulted. Rather than placing responsibility in the hands of would-be victims of sexual assault in a misguided attempt at paternalism, Yoffe should urge their potential assailants not to sexually assault in the first place — which, seems to me, like it would be a more reasonable way of tackling the problem.
As a college woman, I am unnerved by Yoffe’s perspective on the matter — as well as the perspectives of those who think similarly.
Encouraging women to lower their alcohol consumption or dress more conservatively does not solve the underlying factors that catalyze sexual assault. From my experience, these usually stem from ignorance to what sexual assault actually constitutes.
If we want college women (or women, men, and anyone who could fall victim to sexual assault) to feel safe, we should concentrate on fixing this. We should concentrate on education and awareness in order to foster prevention.
In order to tackle the root causes of sexual assault, we can’t depend on changing external factors like people’s alcohol consumption or choice in clothing. Instead, we must work to change people’s mindsets.