By Tina Lu
College is the promise land of fun, adventure, and independence—but it’s also the breeding grounds of sexual assault. According to the Association of American Universities, 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males experience rape or sexual assault in college. To change this statistic—and prevent ourselves from being on the opposite side of this statistic—we need to understand the phenomenon, and what we can do to change it.
So what exactly is sexual assault? Broadly, it’s forcing another person—either by physical or emotional coercion—to commit a sexual act against their will. This includes attempted rape, unwanted touching, and realized rape. And most of the time, sexual assault isn’t committed by a stranger. Approximately 7 out of 10 sexual assaults are perpetrated by somebody the victim knows—whether it’s an intimate partner, acquaintance, or relative.
The relationship between the perpetrator and victim is likely one of the reasons so few sexual assaults are actually reported. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that at least 95% of campus rapes in the U.S. go unreported. Fear of blame and distrust of authorities also contribute to this startling high statistic.
To solve the problem of sexual assault, the first—and the biggest—step we can take is to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. This means reporting to the authorities when you experience or witness a sexual assault. Talk to an adult you trust or a sexual assault expert beforehand, but report the assault to the police when you’re ready. The victim shouldn’t be the only one experiencing the repercussions of a sexual assault.
I hugely oppose the victim-blaming culture permeating our society. A girl may flirt or dress “inappropriately,” but that is never an excuse for interpreting a “no” as a “yes.”
Nevertheless, it’s important for us to recognize that there are things we can do to minimize our chances of being on the receiving end of sexual assault.
- Watch your alcoholic intake. Drinking too much alcohol can impair your judgment or inhibit your ability to physically fight off an attacker. Severe intoxication may even lead to unconsciousness.
- Don’t touch potentially tampered drinks. When you’re at a public party, don’t accept drinks from other people, and don’t get drinks from a communal alcohol source (i.e. a keg or punch bowl). Keep your drink with you at all times—even take it to the the bathroom! These incapacitating drugs can be colorless, odorless, and tasteless, so don’t rely on your senses to tell if your drink is “safe.”
- Don’t go solo. Always go to parties with a group of friends whom you can trust to look out for you. Of course, this means you must look out for them too 🙂
- Trust your instincts. If something feels wrong or unsafe, it probably is. We often subconsciously process body language without consciously recognizing it. So if you get a bad feeling, leave immediately and start walking towards the nearest crowd or well-lit area. Start talking loudly on your phone and draw as much attention to yourself as possible. Most aggressors wouldn’t want to pick an aggressive victim.
Unfortunately, sexual assault in college campuses is a real problem, and in your four years at university, you may (unfortunately) experience a situation in which either you or somebody you know has been sexually assaulted. Let’s hope you’ll never have to deal with such a situation, but if you do, here are some steps you can take after a sexual assault:
- Get yourself (or the person you know) into a safe place. Go somewhere with people that make you feel safe; remove yourself from the sexual assault perp
- Realize that what happened is not your fault. The perpetrator is to blame — not you, and you deserve to get help for your situation.
- Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673). It’ll serve you well to have this number stored in your phone ahead of time, just in case. During the call, you’ll be connected to a trained staff member from a local sexual assault service provider, who will direct you to the appropriate local health facility. These service providers will make sure to put your needs and desires first. DON’T approach your school or the police with this issue; in many cases, they will attempt to suppress the sexual assault case, as it may damage the reputation of the university.