According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted during their time in college, and over 90 percent of these crimes go unreported.
During Sexual Awareness Month, resources, support and information are given out constantly, but what about every other month?
It seems that during April, people are educated on assault, consent and other relevant topics. The rest of the year however, campuses are relatively silent on the matter. It’s as if talking about it would be stating that there is a problem.
“Sexual awareness is virtually nonexistent on this campus,” sophomore Abigail Brandt said. “Aside from the one long week in the whole year, you don’t hear about it.”
Ninety percent of college victims don’t report the crime. Could this be due to the lack of attention paid to assault throughout the year? Do victims know that campuses care? Do they feel that their peers care?
First-year Spencer Kats said, “People can be ashamed to report. Rape and other types of sexual assault are cases where victims tend to get blamed. Our society is very bad about that. People are afraid or ashamed to speak up.”
From victim blaming to attributed fragility, a sexual assault survivor is subjected to society’s labels.
Too often, they tend to lose their voice in these situations. When a victim speaks out about what they have experienced, they are rarely in control of what happens next. Their story is no longer in their hands.
Cases represented in the media are rarely examples of a just or fair outcome for the subject of the assault. They tend to focus more on the aggressor and what they aim to lose, rather than what a victim has already had taken away.
The Brock Turner case comes to mind. The damage he caused to multiple women was overlooked for his “potential” and the “damage jail could cause him.” Not only did he receive a laughable sentence, but he only served half of it.
“There’s a big stigma around sexual assault that isn’t really fair to victims,” said first-year Kathlyn Buzitis. “You always hear stories like Brock Turner where the victim’s being questioned. That’s probably why there is so much underreporting. There is a lot of victim blaming, and it’s not easy for the person to heal.”
Emma Sulkowicz, for example, was sexually assaulted at Columbia College her junior year. The university took no action against the accused, and Sulkowicz’ whole life began to be questioned.
“Rape is the only crime on the books for which arguing that the temptation to commit it was too clear and obvious to resist is treated as a defense. For every other crime, we call that a confession.”
This quote, originally posted by David J Prokopetz on a personal blog, has been circulating the Internet for a few years now and it makes one reflect. This quote implies that from the moment a sexual crime is reported, the victim has to prove that they did not cause the crime.
Not only were they subject to the assault, but they are then subject to the emotional rollercoaster that is reporting. From their clothing to their sexual habits, every part of the victim is analyzed and broken down.
Sulkowicz spoke to this during an interview with Time. “I didn’t report at first because it’s a big emotional trauma and I didn’t feel like dealing with it.”
It is no surprise that rape and other sexual assault crimes go under-reported. We have created a social experience where being a victim can feel just as shameful, if not more, than being an aggressor.
If we want to create an environment where the victims feel supported and safe to report, then we need to improve how we handle the subject.
For example, statistics and data about sexual assault cases are not easily accessible to students here at SPU.
Information can be found upon direct request, and even then responses are slow or lacking. In fact, most students do not even know who to ask about accessing such information.
“I wouldn’t even know who to talk to on campus about this,” Buzitis said. “I would probably just try to find it online.”
Consent and defining sexual assault are topics discussed through some videos and a single session during orientation week. Aside from that, optional events are offered during Sexual Awareness Month if one wishes to further learn about assault.
During orientation, students are informed that rates of sexual assault at SPU and other Christian universities are lower due to the lifestyle expectations and gendered floors. Although this does not mean these cases are non-existent here, this comment makes it easier to disregard the fact that incidents do happen.
We need to change how we handle the topic of sexual assault as a whole. This should not only be talked about once a year. The resources and breaking of stigmas should not be exclusive to one month only.
Opportunities for discussions should be more ample, regardless the month.
“We should be having those awareness talks a lot more in residence halls,” Brandt said. “Training the RAs, SMCs and other leadership about the topics would be helpful to build awarenesses in the community. Without a specific place available to go to, it comes down to leadership.”
Yes, having a specific month dedicated to the subject is important, but this should not be the only time we should be hearing about sexual assault. This information should not be treated like holiday decorations, stored away for most of the year.
Kats commented on the need for more conversations.
“Sexual awareness needs to be discussed more openly,” she said. “I wish sex wasn’t such a taboo on campus because then sexual awareness would be an easier discussion. People who have gone through incidents wouldn’t feel so outcasted.”
Being educated and aware should not be an extra, but rather a minimum. Those who have experienced any instance of sexual assault deserve better. Society should aim to do better. Our campuses should look to be better.
Saya is a sophomore political science and psychology double major.