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How Rape and Sexual Assault is Being Normalized on College Campuses

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Universities are to blame for such high rates of rape and sexual assault on their campuses due to their negligence and lack of action towards offenders. Universities have frequently failed to support victims of sexual assault and harassment. Too often, universities have dealt with sexual assault and harassment of female students by turning a blind eye, by claiming it is not their responsibility or, most shamefully, by actively covering up assaults in fear of reputational damage. It is time to face the evidence and put a full force stop to harassment and assault on campus. The act of failing to support survivors and, in some cases, actively seeking to silence them contributes at large to Rape Culture. Rape Culture is a culture in which rape is rampant, yet it is excused by the people and media within that culture. It is exemplified in the blatant objectification and sexualization of the female body, lack of regard for a victim’s human rights, the romanticism of rape in the media and the dehumanization of victims of sexual assault. This is perpetuated by lessening the pressure on the abuser and assigning blame to the victim. In this type of culture rape is not taken seriously. Universities do not care about woman who have been victims of rape and sexual assault and their actions towards woman who come forth with professions of assault further perpetuate rape and Rape Culture.

Rape culture is sustained through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. Rape Culture affects every woman. The rape of one woman is a degradation, terror, and limitation to all women. Most women and girls limit their behavior because of the existence of rape. Most women and girls live in fear of rape. Men, in general, do not. That’s how rape functions as a powerful means by which the whole female population is held in a subordinate position to the whole male population, even though many men don’t rape, and many women are never victims of rape. This cycle of fear is the legacy of Rape Culture. Here is a list of examples that perpetuate and contribute to Rape Culture, from Marshall University’s Women’s Center’s Web Page: “Blaming the victim (“She asked for it!”), Trivializing sexual assault (“Boys will be boys!”), assuming only promiscuous women get raped, refusing to take rape accusations seriously, and teaching women to “avoid” getting raped instead of teaching men not to rape.” How can men and women combat Rape Culture ? by avoiding the use of language that objectifies or degrades women (“whore”, “slut”, “bitch”, “skank,” “thot”, “prude”), speaking out if you hear someone else making an offensive joke or trivializing rape, if a friend says she has been raped, take her seriously and be supportive, being respectful of others’ physical space even in casual situations and always communicate with sexual partners and do not assume consent.

To show how critical rape on campus really is, in a study conducted by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) it is estimated that 35 out of every 1,000 women attending college will be raped. Yet in reality, these numbers are likely much larger, as more than 90 percent of college victims do not report the attack. Colleges pour their resources into instituting “preventative programs”. Despite attempts to “educate” and end sexual violence on campuses, rape is largely overlooked or laughed off. There are countless rape jokes thrown around, and rape is often used as a verb to describe excelling at something. For example, a student who did well on a exam may say ‘I raped that test.’ This only serves to normalize rape, making Rape Culture thrive. The normalization of rape largely stems from the lack of understanding on the subject. It is seen as a crime of passion, rather than violent violation of boundaries and rights. Rape culture isn’t a crime of passion it is a detrimental cultural issue stemming from systematically socialized gender norms. The abuser often believes they are entitled to use someone else’s body without consent. ‘Many students are desensitized to rape culture. It’s a normal part of conversations and social behaviors,’ Sergio Camberos, ASU wellness ambassador, said. ‘These behaviors have to be unlearned. Learning how to facilitate healthy relationships, how to be respected, and be respectful are all part of this process’.

Women are taught to “avoid” rape on campus by restricting themselves from normal activities such as attending social gatherings, rather, while men are excused for their actions due to “ignorance” on rape and sexual assault, because “men do not understand the legal definition of sexual assault; this is one reason why their perceptions are so different from those of women, and they need the education. One possible format for such information would be a required course for freshmen that teaches them what constitutes as rape” (Acquaintance Rape and the College Social Scene, Sally K. Ward). Ward states that men are not to blame for rape or sexual assault due to their “lack of knowledge”, while in contrast Ward also states that female students need to be “taught” about “appropriate and inappropriate behavior. For women this would include information on the risks of alcohol use in supposedly non-risky settings like campus parties…It is also clear that women put themselves in risky situations because they are too trusting of those they may meet in the ‘normal’ college social scene. They also need the education” (Acquaintance Rape and the College Social Scene, Sally K. Ward). This is the reinforcement of Rape Culture. Excusing men from their actions due to “ignorance” while simultaneously victim blaming the women, teaching women to live in fear of any and all men, in fear of social gatherings, in fear of alcohol. Reinforcing the belief that it is a womens fault for getting raped or sexually assaulted because she had a few drinks, went to a party, or because she partook in a conversation with someone of the opposite sex. Ward projects the belief that female, freshmen, need to be giving a class where they are taught how to avoid rape. Rapists and abusers often are not held responsible for their violence, while the victims are held responsible for protecting themselves. Women are taught how to avoid rape, but men are not taught not to rape. The criminal system can punish rapists and sexual abusers, but it is very difficult to unleash the value of entitlement to someone else’s body. We need to define rape as it really is: coercive assault and violence. If our culture is able to accurately define rape and create values that foster accountability we will be able to deconstruct rape culture and construct a healthier culture that teaches empathy and respect.

In May of 2014, the U.S. Department of Education made history when it announced a groundbreaking civil rights investigation of more than 50 colleges and universities for their alleged mismanagement of sexual violence and harassment cases. “Following the investigation, the U.S. Department of Education released its list of all the schools (a list that included many prestigious and Ivy League institutions) under review for violating Title IX, a law which states in part ‘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’ ” (Federal Title IX Investigation, American Bar Association, ABA). The progress made in 2014 was then retrograded in September of 2017 by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, she scraped a key part of government policy on campus sexual assault, saying she was “giving colleges more freedom to balance the rights of accused students with the need to crack down on serious misconduct”. This move, which involved rescinding two sets of guidelines several years old, was part of one of the fiercest battles in higher education today, over whether the Obama administration, in trying to get colleges to take sexual assault more seriously, had gone “too far” and created a system that treated the accused unfairly. Obama era guidelines had demanded colleges use “preponderance of the evidence,” in deciding whether a student is responsible for sexual assault, a verdict that can lead to discipline and even expulsion. On September 22, 2017, the Education Department said colleges were free to abandon that standard and raise it to a “higher standard” known as “clear and convincing evidence.” In announcing the change, taken from The New York Times, “the latest in a widespread rollback of Obama-era rules by the Trump administration, the department issued a statement saying that the old rules ‘lacked basic elements of fairness.’ The move had been long sought by advocates for accused students, most of whom are men, who had complained that campus judicial processes had become heavily biased in favor of female accusers.” Robert Shibley, the executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education stated “The campus justice system was and is broken, with the end of this destructive policy, we finally have the opportunity to get it right.” DeVos plans to enact new rules after a “public comment period” that department officials said could take at least several months, and in the meantime, colleges may choose to maintain the lower standard of proof. Some states followed the lead of the Obama administration and passed laws requiring colleges to use the lower standard but the move on September 22 suggests DeVos wants colleges to consider making the change, raising the possibility that different colleges will begin to evaluate sexual assault complaints in different ways. Janet Napolitano, the president of the University of California system and a Homeland Security secretary in the Obama administration, said in a statement that the department’s announcement would “in effect weaken sexual violence protections, prompt confusion among campuses about how best to respond to reports of sexual violence and sexual harassment, and unravel the progress that so many schools have made.” 

In April 2013, Occidental students and faculty filed two federal civil rights complaints against Occidental College on behalf of 37 students, alumni, staff and faculty members, alleging violations of Title IX of the US Education Amendments of 1972 and dozens of violations of the Clery Act. The federal civil rights complaint alleges, ‘that the school deliberately discouraged victims from reporting sexual assaults, misled students about their rights during campus investigations, retaliate against whistleblowers, and handed down minor punishment to known assailants who in some cases allegedly struck again.’ By April 2014, the number of federal complainants against the College had grown to 52. Most ‘regard cases of retaliation by college officials to survivors of sexual assault or activists.’ In response to the sexual assault allegations, Occidental College President Jonathan Veitch took the following actions: Adopted a new interim sexual misconduct policy written by Pepper Hamilton attorneys Gina Smith and Leslie Gomez, Hired a former Assistant District Attorney, Ruth Jones, as a full-time, independent Title IX coordinator, added a new 24/7 telephone hotline, hired a full-time survivor advocate, conducted a comprehensive internal audit of its Clery Act reporting practices. Doubled staff for Project SAFE, which is a campus advocacy and education program dedicated to addressing sexual misconduct, expanded preventative education for all students through online programs, created a Sexual Assault Task Force made up of students, faculty and staff that was dissolved in April 2013 and created a Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board made up of students, faculty and staff that was dissolved in May 2014. Many have labeled these changes “cosmetic and called their effectiveness into question. Students have alleged, for example, that the College failed to maintain the integrity of a new confidential reporting system and has tracked down and identified students who choose to report anonymously. Critics also point out that these changes fail to address the college’s excessively lenient punishments for rapists and the vague language embedded in the school’s official sexual misconduct policy — issues which were at the heart of the initial controversy. Veitch’s retention of Dean of Students Barbara Avery, in whom Occidental faculty cast a 65-9 vote of no confidence due to her handling of sexual assault cases in 2013, has also come under harsh criticism.” 

Due to the universities lack of action, in the fall of 2014, then Columbia senior Emma Sulkowicz took matters into her own hands. “Sulkowicz acquired national attention with her senior thesis project/political protest, Mattress Performance: Carry That Weight. In her performance, Sulkowicz committed to carrying the mattress on which she claimed to have been sexually assaulted on until her alleged rapist was expelled from campus. Yet the man that raped Sulkowicz was never expelled, instead he was allowed to graduate alongside Sulkowicz, who carried the mattress across the stage during her graduation ceremony”. Although Sulkowicz and two other female students who claimed to have been sexually assaulted by the same man didn’t receive the justice they deserved, Sulkowicz’ political protest still remains an important moment in the ongoing conversation on sexual assault. Carry That Weight inspired young women at over 100 universities to organize a National Day of Action in October of 2014 where male and female students carried their own mattresses in a show of solidarity for Sulkowicz. On that same day, Columbia students also delivered 28 mattresses to the home of Columbia University president Lee Bollinger. This is just one of the many examples of university administrators attempting to avoid rape and sexual assault issues, failing these victims in turn fails all victims of sexual assault and rape, which leads to the strong perpetuation of Rape Culture.

Universities contribute massively to Rape Culture and in turn do little to nothing prevent rape and sexual assault on their campuses or provided support for their victims. Due to the alarming rates of rape and sexual assault on university campuses administration needs to crack down harder on abusers and show victims more support. Universities need to stop worrying about their the jeopardy of their reputation due to rape and sexual assault cases and worry about the actual victims. The youth must push for tougher legislation and those in office need to stop taking steps back and perpetuating Rape Culture, which in turn shows women that the government and universities do not care about them. The world needs to be safer for women, and cracking down hard on abusers and legislation is the first step.  

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How Rape And Sexual Assault Is Being Normalized On College Campuses. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-rape-and-sexual-assault-is-being-normalized-on-college-campuses/
“How Rape And Sexual Assault Is Being Normalized On College Campuses.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-rape-and-sexual-assault-is-being-normalized-on-college-campuses/
How Rape And Sexual Assault Is Being Normalized On College Campuses. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-rape-and-sexual-assault-is-being-normalized-on-college-campuses/> [Accessed 29 Jan. 2022].
How Rape And Sexual Assault Is Being Normalized On College Campuses [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2022 Jan 29]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-rape-and-sexual-assault-is-being-normalized-on-college-campuses/
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