Before one even begins to discuss the root causes of rape— the personal motivations, the sociocultural beliefs and practices that may attribute to the act; one has to realize and acknowledge that rape is a brutal act of violence. Rape, which can be defined as, penetration no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without consent of the victim (Per the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program) 1, can affect victims for many years after initial contact, and after any physical wounds have healed. Many rape victims subsequently have to cope with a form of post-traumatic stress disorder referred to as post traumatic rape syndrome; and the hallmark of this disorder is that it is psychological reaction to being exposed to an event (a brutal act of sexual violence) which is outside the range of normal human experience. The assault and trauma impacts the brain in such a way that it often leave victim’s with impaired verbal skills, short term memory loss, memory fragmentation, and delayed recall,2,3 which exemplifies why rape victims have a great difficulty functioning and responding to a line of questioning in a courtroom setting. The following symptoms are often present in Rape Trauma Syndrome 2,3:
It is easy to see how these symptoms would greatly impact the lives and academic performance of rape victims on college campuses, those who report the rape and those who have chosen to remain silent. In fact, a number of these symptoms (feelings of helplessness, denial, lack of trust, & shame) may contribute to their unwillingness to actually go forward and report the crime or seek out emotional support and/or clinical care. Even more problematic are the symptoms of isolation and depression, particularly when considering the fact that these students are indeed isolated and away familial support. Finally when it comes to reporting, arrest, prosecution, and the opportunity to seek out therapy that can help victims return to a life of with some “normalcy”, existing— and— recent campus policies made this difficult. On-campus counselors and advocates, as well as those working at on-campus women’s and health centers, were unable to maintain confidentiality,4 which only exacerbates the post traumatic rape syndrome symptom of having a lack of trust.
Beyond the act of physical and sexual violence, post traumatic rape syndrome, as well as the refusal of many rape victims to report when they have been assaulted can be attributed to a prevailing rape culture on America’s college campuses. Rape culture is a term used to describe the way rape, sexual violence, and sexual abuse are linked to the culture of society. Essentially sexual violence and speech against women is normalized and excused in media and pop culture. Thus, male sexual aggression is in a number of ways encouraged and supported in society. Here, violence and sexuality are interchangeable. Violence is seen as sexy, and sexuality is seen as violent. Music fills the airwaves telling women that “I know you want it” and “I’ll BEAT the pussy up” and if you are familiar with soca music from the Caribbean, you may have heard the song “Kick In She Back Door”, which is literally about breaking into a woman’s home (and her body) through anal penetration if she refuses a man’s sexual advances. This rape culture simply takes its cue from or is steeped in patriarchy; which is the general structure of privilege in society, where heterosexual men have more power and influence over other members of society.
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So, what does rape culture look like? It begins with victim blaming — stating that it was something that they chose to wear, a place that they choose to venture, or an attitude or personality that they are perceived to have.
Even more appalling is that the victims of rape often also blame themselves for what was done to them. Rape culture is also pressuring men to “score” and teaching them that their sexual conquests helps to define their manhood, and it is the sexual objectification of women, particularly in media. It is inventing and promoting the idea of a legitimate rape, as well as having to audacity state that a rapist may have any parental rights to a child conceived by rape and his decision to ignore the right of a woman to say NO to his sexual advances. It is misogyny and gender specific insults, and it is trivializing rape — which includes joking and finding humor in it, as well as institutional apathy; and institutional apathy has historically been a problem in reducing the incidents of rape on college campuses.
An even more troubling manifestation of rape culture is the current backlash against the anti-rape movement that has led a handful of male students to sue universities with the claim that they were falsely accused of sexual assault. Are false accusations wrong? Yes, of course. However, in these cases these men were found guilty of the act after full investigative proceedings; and of course the in these “frivolous” lawsuits the men attempt to make the claim that the sexual encounter was consensual. They make this claim while displaying their true lack of understanding of what compromises consensual sex, which includes not knowing that an intoxicated “yes” or an intoxicated failure to “say no” is NOT consensual sex. All this, while according to the FBI, only 8% of rape reports are considered to be unfounded.
The Prevalence of Rape
The truth — rape and sexual assault is unfortunately more common than many realize. Here are the disheartening statistics:
• One in five women is sexually assaulted in college5,6
• In the great majority of cases (75-80%) the women knows her attacker5,6
• Many are victims of an “incapacitated assault” — where they are sexually abused while drugged, drunk, passed out, or otherwise incarcerated 7
• Less than 5% of college students who are sexually assaulted report the crime to the police8-16
On a national scale:
• Every 2 minutes, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted
• One out of six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
• 15% of sexual assault victims are under age 12
• 44% of sexual assault victims are under age 18
• Ages 12-34 are the years with the highest risk
• Only 12% of college rape survivors will report their rape to the police (hyperlink—https://msmagazine.com/blog/2014/06/18/men-sue-in-campus-sexual-assault-cases/ )
• 82% of all sexual assaults are by people who know the victim
Based on research reported in 2013 the average number of rape cases reported in the US annually is 89,00017
• The US ranks 6th in the world among countries with the highest rape rates17
Campus Rape (The Headlines)
In October of 2013, a Georgia Tech fraternity suspended a social chair for sending a “rapebait email” to his chapter which specifically offered advice about how to take advantage of drunk girls.
In June, a Tufts University student, Wagatwe Wanjuki, made headlines and sparked the hashtag #SurvivorPrivilege, after she was expelled from the university after she was raped. It was in 2009, a year after her attack, that Wagatwe first came forward about her repeated assault by a fellow student. Tuft University’s response was that, per their legal counsel, they did not have to take action. In fact, she was told to drop out, a year shy of graduation, by the Dean of Undergraduate Education, who happened to be her assailant’s academic advisor.
The fact that Wagatwe is a young Black woman and of an immigrant background has many implications for how she was treated, and how society treats and views Black women who are victims of rape. It harkens back to stereotypes and falsehoods about Black women’s sexuality that creates over-sexed caricatures who could not possibly be victims or sexually violated. Surely, they are the temptress with insatiable sexual appetites.
On top of having to cope with expulsion, Wagatwe found herself under attack from those, notably George Will in his Washington Post article , who claimed that she was seeking a special and “coveted status” as a rape victim and survivor. According to Will, women lie about being assaulted because they covet the sympathy. In his own words he states:
“Colleges and universities are being educated by Washington and are finding the experience excruciating. They are learning that when they say campus victimizations are ubiquitous (‘micro-aggressions,’ often not discernible to the untutored eye, are everywhere), and that when they make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate.”
Yes, women are that emotional, that needy, that childish, that they systematically go about dreaming up these fantasies of rape, in hopes of finally getting attention that they so desperately crave. In a classic patriarchal and chauvinistic manner, Will dismisses women’s claims of sexual assault. Do you need a clearer example of rape culture than that? Wagatwe, responded with the creation of the #SurvivorPrivilege hashtag which sparked a social media firestorm:
More can be found out about Wagatwe Wanjuki and the current activism that she carries out here.
Barriers to Reporting, Prosecution, & Treatment
Despite the prevalence of sexual assault and rape, many offenders are neither arrested or prosecuted (as pointed out only 12% of rapes on college campuses are reported). These rates of reporting can be attributed to a wide array of barriers. In short, the greatest barrier to reporting of rape, prosecution of rapists, and treatment seeking on college campuses is once again patriarchy. Patriarchy fuels campus rape cultures which are more focused on power, prestige, and competiveness. It also supports victim blaming, shaming, which involves being subjected to insensitive, harsh, hurtful, and judgmental questions (often about a student’s prior sexual history, as if that has any bearing on or relationship to the fact that another student raped them) which only compound a victims distress. Thus, facing a school’s hostile adjudication process often proves too difficult of a barrier.
Why are the schools adjudication processes so hostile? Well, simply because the schools would prefer to not even have to bother with claims of rape, which negatively impact their reputations. The negative press then in turn impacts their ability to recruit students (consider the ranking of universities and how sensitive the higher education market is to public perception) and hold on to their images of prestige and scholarship. Thus, administrators who faced the problem often tried to keep it a private matter to be resolved behind closed doors with minimal campus disturbance; which in turns only helps to perpetuate rape culture. When the concern is given to only protect the power structure and reputation of a school that is rape culture. What administrators should have/should be doing is making these incidents known to the student body, to increase awareness of rape, and allow for teachable moments, that can help reduce future assaults and cultivate an environment that makes it safe for victims to come forward and perpetrators removed from college campuses (especially when considering that rapist are often repeat offenders). 90% of college rapes are actually committed by about 3% of college men, which gives credence to the argument that, if these cases were handled in a proper way (criminal prosecution) the number of campus rapes can be significantly reduced.
Another barrier (and symptom of trauma) is fear. A report found that 40% of college survivors feared reprisal by the perpetrator.18 This is even more of a problem, because college students, who often live in close-quarters and close-knit college towns. There is also fear of treatment by authorities (due to the hostile adjudication process), fear of not knowing how to report the crime (again a problem within the framework of the university. This process should be clear and listed in a student handbook), and of course fear of the lack of confidentiality and ultimately having families or other students find out what happened.5,6
Another critical barrier is that of lack of training among school administrators, educators, etc. when it comes to dealing with rape. Not only is there a lack of understanding on how to deal with the victim, but there is an obvious gap in understanding of how sexual assault occurs, the role of patriarchy, and the continuance of a campus rape culture that justifies the sexual assault and exploitation of the female body.
Current Policy – Reducing the Incidents of Rape
Currently under federal law, when a school becomes aware that one of its students has been sexually assaulted, it is obligated to act; as it is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment for its students—and to give survivors the help they need to reclaim their educations (and their lives).The first time any federal administration called out sexual violence as a civil rights issues, occurred in April 2011, under the Obama Administration, when the Office for Civil Rights in the Education Department. The Office issued the letter, stating that sexual violence was not only a crime that could land a perpetrator in jail, it was also a form of harassment prohibited y federal anti-discrimination law”, after it received 43 Civil rights complaints related to sexual violence at colleges from October 2010 to April 2011. The letter required colleges to take vigorous steps to prevent and response to sexual violence on their campuses.
On May 1, 2014, the US Department of Education has published this list of 55 colleges under investigation for possible Title IX violations, stemming from their handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints. Title IX was established in 1972 and states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance” (hyperlink—https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/tix_dis.html ). In short, due to their mishandling of sexual violence cases these schools are at risk of losing their federal funding:
•Arizona State University (case opened 1/26/2012)
•Butte-Glen Community College District (opened 2/27/2013)
•Occidental College (opened 5/2/2013)
•University of California at Berkeley (opened 3/25/2014)
•University of Southern California (opened 6/26/2013)
•Regis University (opened 4/30/2013)
•University of Colorado at Boulder (opened 6/18/2013)
•University of Colorado at Denver (opened 4/29/2014)
•University of Denver (opened 12/12/2013)
•University of Connecticut (opened 12/6/2013)
District of Columbia
•Catholic University of America (opened 1/8/2014)
•Florida State University (opened 4/3/2014)
•Emory University (opened 12/13/2013)
•University of Hawaii at Manoa (opened 5/28/2013)
•University of Idaho (opened 4/18/2013)
•Knox College (opened 1/2/2014)
•University of Chicago (opened 6/28/2013)
•Indiana University-Bloomington (opened 3/12/2014)
•Vincennes University (opened 3/20/2014)
•Amherst College (opened 1/6/2014)
•Boston University (opened 12/16/2013)
•Emerson College (opened 12/23/2013)
•Harvard College (opened 4/24/2014)
•Harvard University Law School (opened 12/21/2010)
•University of Massachusetts at Amherst (opened 6/30/2011)
•Frostburg State University (opened 9/18/2013)
•Michigan State University (opened one case 7/21/2011; opened a second 2/18/2014)
•University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (opened 2/21/2014)
•Guilford College (opened 11/18/2013)
•University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (opened 3/1/2013)
•Minot State University (opened 2/26/2014)
•Dartmouth College (opened 5/31/2013)
•Princeton University (opened 12/15/2010)
•CUNY Hunter College (opened 2/8/2013)
•Hobart and William Smith Colleges (opened 4/24/2014)
•Sarah Lawrence College (opened 12/4/2013)
•SUNY at Binghamton (opened 12/31/2013)
•Denison University (opened 3/7/2014)
•Ohio State University (opened 6/23/2010)
•Wittenberg University (opened one case 8/25/2011; opened a second 4/18/2013)
•Oklahoma State University (opened 4/10/2014)
•Carnegie Mellon University (opened 1/13/2014)
•Franklin and Marshall College (opened 3/26/2014)
•Pennsylvania State University (opened 1/23/2014)
•Swarthmore College (opened 7/12/2013)
•Temple University (opened 8/9/2013)
•Vanderbilt University (opened 3/12/2014)
•Southern Methodist University (opened one case 8/17/2011; opened a second and a third 4/19/2013)
•The University of Texas Pan-American (opened 4/21/2014)
•College of William and Mary (opened 4/18/2014)
•University of Virginia (opened 6/30/2011)
•Washington State University (opened 1/15/2013)
•University of Wisconsin at Whitewater (opened 2/14/2014)
•Bethany College (opened 4/28/2014)
•West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine (opened 3/25/2013)
In September 2011, the 1 is 2 Many Campaign was launched, having a focus on teen dating violence and sexual assault. The multimedia campaign includes mobile apps, as well as open forums among the strategies used to reduce teen sexual violence.
On April 29th, The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, under the directive of the Obama Administration, has moved discussions along, by presenting a 20 pages-report entitled, Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, which encourages and provides colleges guidelines to address on-campus sexual violence. The goal of the guide is to provide schools with best practices, as well as required guidelines, for the prevention of sexual assault. The Task Force work also included devising best practices that that would improve transparency of the federal governments on-campus sexual assault enforcement activities, as well as holding schools accountable for confronting sexual assault. The following suggestions/guidelines are put forth in the document:
New guidance from the Department of Education makes it clear that on-campus counselors and advocates-can talk to a survivor in confidence.
A checklist will be provided to schools in order for them to draft their own sexual misconduct policies
The Justice Department will develop trauma-informed training programs for school officials and campus and local law enforcement.
Schools will be provided with a sample agreement that they can use to partner with their local rape crisis center and local law enforcement.
Readily accessible resources and information will be provided to student survivors of rape; and this includes a roadmap for filing a complaint if they believe that their school has simply not lived up to its obligations. Services can also be looked up via their zip code.
Enforcement data will be posted on the website – NotAlone.gov
What Are The Policies Lacking?
In the 2014 Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault, there is a recommendation that colleges complete a Campus Climate Survey, so that schools can show that they are serious about the problem of on-campus sexual violence. However, the task force recommends that there should be a waiting period of 2 years before they decide on whether or not completing this survey should be a requirement. Considering the Title IX violations and ongoing problems with university administrators, one would expect that the task force would begin to address this problem with more than mere “suggestions and recommendations”. Obviously, suggestions may likely be ignored. Further, there should be a minimum standard that schools are required to adhere to when drafting their individual sexual misconduct policies. The only necessary variations should truly be in identifying stakeholders and specifying their roles. Truly, it should not be left up to the school to “decide what is- or is not- consent to sexual activity”.
Also, disturbingly missing from the report is the mention of the terms patriarchy or rape culture, despite the fact that the report alluded to obvious examples of these societal factors. Blatantly stating these terms and explaining what they are would be the best way to develop meaningful interventions, educate allies and students, train administrators and school officials, as well as law enforcement, in order to reduce incidents of rape. Even more importantly, it would help to create an environment of awareness, and hopefully eventually understanding, that would make it less stressful for survivors of rape to report the trauma. Last, missing from this report is the mention of other forms of sexual violence, which are endemic on American college campuses, and are again a reflection of a persistent rape culture. These other forms of sexual violence – which may lead to an incident of rape (or even death) include: molestation/groping, sexual harassment, stalking, and domestic violence. Why are these acts not addressed? How will perpetrators of these crimes be held accountable?
Grassroots Activities — Reducing the Incidents of Rape
There are a number of ways that students and activist are mobilizing to reduce the incidents of campus rape, and they are all linked by one strategy, Awareness. That is making faculty and school administrators aware of the fact that they are aware of the current federal policies regarding on-campus sexual violence. Also, they are collectively making the faculty and administrators aware of the fact that they are watching and in a sense providing insight to ensure that they do take claims of rape seriously, and act swiftly. They are also working to increase awareness about what is defined as rape, and why absolute consent is necessary. Last, they are also working to dismantle taboos and patriarchal barriers — based on victim blaming— which make it difficult for rape victims to come forward; and subsequently ensures that rapists are not removed from campuses, giving them the opportunity to rape again.
Some of these grassroots and student-led Anti-Rape Violence campaigns include:
The Red Tape campaign being carried out at several colleges during commencement. In short, students are placing an actual piece of red tape, spelling out “IX” ( a nod to federal gender equity law Title IX) on their mortarboards (graduation cap) as a symbol of solidarity with rape survivors, particularly those whose cases were mishandled by administrators. This visual tool originated over a decade earlier, in 1999 and 2000 by Columbia University students attempting to get their administrators to supplement the university’s inadequate rape policy.
*Brown University students line up for graduation with red tape on their caps
Currently students at Columbia University, still frustrated with the university’s rape policy and overall response to on-campus sexual violence have utilized the Red Tape to hang up fliers across their campus, which lists demands that they are making to their administrators. This Red Tape campaign has spread to other universities across the country including Brown, Harvard, Darthmouth, and Stanford. A social media page that will assist in the coordination of these activities has also been spawned (hyperlink-)
ThinkProgress currently released the article Five Creative Ways That Students Are Fighting Rape Culture On College Campuses , which lists a number of grassroots student-led rape reduction activities.
Ultimately, as pointed out by a number of activists, when it comes to sexual violence, we must push for personal accountability, in the same manner that we do with other criminal offenses. Can there be certain root causes (social determinants) in one’s environment, as well as other circumstances that may lead them to commit an act of murder? Yes. Outside of self defense (as in, I did not act as a stalker and did not bother, instigate, or proved to be an aggressor in a confrontation where my life was at risk) is murder justified. No. So, in that same line of thinking, despite a prevailing rape culture, the actions of an individual must be punished. Within rape culture, many are exposed and influenced by the same societal attitudes, but only a few actually act; and for that they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Further, considering the declaration of rape as an act violating another’s Civil Rights, perhaps these laws need to become more stringent.
Considering that research suggests that more than 90 of college rape is committed by about 3% of college men, a swift and appropriate prosecution and subsequent sentencing, which will readily remove these rapists off of college campuses, will help to reduce the rates of rape.
In order to ensure that criminal charges are brought against those who commit acts of sexual violence, the power of the colleges’ internal judiciary boards and administrators will have to be reduced. The current bureaucratic structures that allow schools to investigate claims of on-campus rape, without informing law enforcement that an actual crime has occurred, in the same manner that they will handle a violation of school policies, such as truancy, will have to be dismantled or reformed. Still, the Federal and local government will have to begin reforming the process of how rape in-take victims are treated by law enforcement. Not only are there issues with patriarchy (especially victim blaming/shaming), but then one has to consider how these institutions have historically mistreated and alienated certain groups in society, particularly women of color, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. This historic precedent makesit difficult for these students to approach law enforcement. Law enforcement should be tasked with finding solutions to overcome this barrier, as well as finding ways to expedite investigation of rape claims, which do not leave students vulnerable to attack and retaliation, or even more of an interruption to their academic life.
Focusing on prosecution is not enough, because it is only reactionary. The goal should simply be – rape prevention. Again, we must be willing to call-out (not write multiple page of reports devoid of this critical terminology) and address the patriarchal rape culture that encourages sexual violence, and acts as an aid to rapists/would-be-rapists, by making their actions protected and tolerated. It is rape culture that helps to find excuses for their behavior, where Boys Will Be Boys, and girls should dress and act accordingly, if they do not want to be raped. Rape culture with its victim blaming and excuses for men’s violence (and its glorification), seen in war, sports, action movies, along with its objectification of female bodies, makes it difficult to prosecute rapists. Often, it is the victim who is first put on trial.
Rape prevention efforts should continue to engage male allies in preventing sexual assault. Instruct them on what defines absolute consent, to become vocal and come forward when they witness an act of sexual violence or hear speech that encourages sexual violence, or more importantly to intervene when they believe that someone is being sexually assaulted. Their actions as Influencers of other men may help to curb on-campus sexual violence.
US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS), Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. Reporting Rape 2013: Summary Reporting System (SRS). User manual and Technical Specification. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/recent-program-updates/reporting-rape-in-2013
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Not Alone: The First Report of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assualt. (April 2014). Retrieved from www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/report_0.pdf
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