Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rape prevention on college campuses

by Thúy-Lan Võ Lite

Repacking my stuff into self-addressed cardboard boxes has made it incredibly real to me that, in a few days, I’ll be back on a college campus. And, as a young woman, I’m already anticipating the “avalanche of advice” that Jaclyn Friedman described in the American Prospect Wednesday: Don't hook up! Don't dress provocatively! Watch your drink! Actually, don't drink at all! Always stay with a friend! Don't stay out too late! Don't walk home alone! Etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam.”

In her well-timed editorial, she mentioned a lot of things we already know. Campus rape is prevalent: “Cautious estimates suggest that nearly one in every 10 female college students will be raped while she's at school.” Most rapes at college are committed by “repeat-offender sociopaths who know exactly what they’re doing,” not by “well-meaning boys confused about consent.” And, furthermore, schools aren’t taking the issue seriously enough, often treating the offense “like an unfortunate but understandable miscommunication.”

But Friedman was particularly insightful in noting that most of the burden of rape prevention is placed on women. While we devote lots of energy to educating and warning females about risks they should avoid, similar attention is not given to teaching male students how to, well, not rape. Jezebel provides a great analogy: “Too often, we're asked to accept sexual assault as though it's an act of God, something that just happens, like rain. It's our job to carry an umbrella to avoid getting wet.”

Colleges should treat rape with the urgency and awareness it merits. I wholeheartedly agree with Friedman’s call for “in-depth programs on healthy sexuality and sexual safety,” and for schools to “start teaching young men that alcohol is never an excuse.” Bystander training is also important; everyone should know what to do (and how to identify) when sexual boundaries are crossed. Campus policies should “support prevention, recover, and justice, not dismissiveness, victim-blaming, and denial.”

Rape prevention is most successful when all students are aware. This starts with a serious attitude adjustment on behalf of college campuses that should be, as Friedman urges, “implementing real policies that work, not just going through motions that make them look concerned.”

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