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Problem Sexual Assaults on College Campuses

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Table of contents

  1. Rape Myths
  2. Colleges being more prone to assaults
  3. Campus Resources

In order to fight against sexual assaults on college campuses, we must first understand the crime statistics. This becomes difficult due to reporting behavior. According to Chelsea Spencer, a contributor to “Why Sexual Assault Survivors Do Not Report to Universities: A Feminist Analysis”, eighty percent of survivors do not report the incident to university officials. In a study conducted by Spencer and their team, eight themes were discovered related to the lack of reporting. The majority of individuals that did not report their assault claimed they did not report it because they did not believe it was a big deal. Other popular reasons included not knowing who to report to, being afraid, having shame towards what happened, and thinking that the university does not need to get involved because it was not school-related. These kinds of responses indicate an essential issue in sexual assault crimes. It indicates that women are often encouraged to minimize the severity of their assault. In addition to downplaying the acts of assault, this study also brings to light how students are uninformed of what to do in the case of a crime. Nineteen percent of the individuals participating in this study reported that they either did not know they could report their crime or they were not sure of how to begin the process (Spencer —). Many crimes on university campuses go unreported because a missing link remains in place. There is little to no education on the steps to take in case of a crime. Many students suffer in silence due to the lack of effective communication on the options students have.

When student survivors decide to report their crimes and seek justice, it often becomes a burden on their lives. Student survivors often find it easier to move on without seeking justice because of the extensive legal process of reporting. According to Matthew Triplett, author of “Sexual Assault on College Campuses: Seeking the Appropriate Balance Between Due Process and Victims Protection”, reporting becomes difficult with the due process rights that the accused individuals receive. The American legal system gives all individuals accused of a crime the opportunity to take litigation before being found guilty. This includes having the right to counsel, to subpoena witnesses, and to cross-examine witnesses. The American ideal that everyone is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt adds to the stress of reporting sexual assault crimes. If a student does not report the crime in a timely manner, there is a higher chance that they will have no physical evidence that the crime occurred. This is not to say that it did not happen, but it does make the investigation much more difficult. It becomes a case of narratives, rather than solid evidence. It is here where the accused individual can truly fight their case. The protection that the legal system gives a perpetrator throughout investigations discourages many individuals from reporting. Reporting becomes an exhaustive process that does not guarantee justice for the survivor. We cannot expect student survivors to report their incidents when the legal system and post-secondary institutions do not always side with them.

Rape Myths

Rape myths are stereotyped beliefs that surround sexual assault. Rape myths often work to excuse sexualized violence or minimize the protection of victims. These specific myths can cause much hostility to a serious situation. It influences the entire investigation of a sexual crime, blames the victim, and can change the sentencing of the accused. Because there have been high rates of false accusations, many have become hesitant in believing victims. Rape myth acceptance is dangerous in the sense that it impacts the victim’s story from the beginning.

Molly Smith from the Criminal Justice and Behavior journal focuses her work on police officers and their perception of sexual assault and rape myth acceptance. Smith states that our current police population has a resilient culture of hegemonic masculinity in which masculinity and lack of emotions is emphasized. Studies have demonstrated that most police officers’ beliefs adhere to traditional gender roles instilled in society. Linked to hegemonic masculinity is rape myth acceptance. The seriousness of sexual assault decreases because of police officers’ perception of the crimes. The majority of police officers that participated in this study believe that eleven to fifty percent of sexual assault allegations were false. Furthermore, about ten percent of police officers believed that the majority, if not all, women lied about being assaulted. Additionally, rape myth acceptance allows officers to place the blame on the victims rather than the perpetrator. Studies indicated that police officers were more likely to blame the victim if they dressed provocatively, were under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or who had a promiscuous personality. Police officers also have a more difficult time believing victims who do not have physical signs of being attacked. College sexual assaults are unique in that physical signs of abuse are not always present. Many assaults are not violent due to the atmosphere that students are in or because it is done by people they know. An individual not fighting back or resisting does not excuse assault. It should not reduce their credibility, especially to officers whose duties are to protect victims. Rape myth acceptance in police officers is threatening to the victims of sexual assault. It creates a culture of non-reporting because of the potential shame placed on survivors. Having police officers question your credibility is a traumatic wound that no survivor needs to encounter.

Tyler Reling from the “Rape Myths and Hookup Culture” article, focuses on why rape myths are still widely accepted across the country. Reling claims that modern society has greatly altered its dating norms. We now live in a society that partakes in a hookup culture, “A social environment that encourages sexual contact-free from the binds of commitment or emotional intimacy”. Participation in hookup culture is especially present in the college environment. Casual intercourse has strengthened the popular rape myth that the victim most likely did not give a clear signal to their perpetrator. Additionally, hookup culture has made it easier to say that an incident was not an assault because of how the victim composed themselves (in regards to how they were dressed and behaving). Because rape and hookups often occur in similar settings, such as at parties or bars, it confuses individuals in processing the crime. Many fail to understand that consent is the underlying detail that distinguishes rape from a hookup. Rape myths claim that if a victim does not fight back aggressively, they must want it. The majority of college survivors do not defend themselves because of intoxication, fear, etc. This detail leads individuals who adhere to rape myths to dismiss the claims. Non-violent assaults are commonly perceived as a normal hookup. Hookup culture has allowed people to express their sexuality more freely; however, it has reinforced certain rape myths. It creates a delicate line between casual sex and forced sex in public settings.

A commonly accepted rape myth is the ideology that men cannot be raped. The majority of the rapes that we see in the media include a male perpetrator and a female victim. Up until recently, individuals believed that men being raped was nonexistent because of the promiscuity that the stereotypical man holds. However, it is reported that almost two percent of all men have been victims of sexual assault. Samantha Hodge claims that the ‘stereotypical’ man can actually explain why men become victims of sexual assault. Hodge states that men are often abused as a form of establishing dominance. This patriarchal system that continues to dominate society allows for men to fall victim to assaults. This structure in place allows for villainous acts against individuals, regardless of gender. It is most important to debunk this particular myth to encourage higher reporting rates. Because of the stigma placed on male victims of sexual assault, reporting happens at a minimum. Society needs to begin believing male victims in hopes of creating a more accepting culture. Until then, we cannot be sure of how many men continue to suffer in silence.

Colleges being more prone to assaults

There are certain aspects of institutions that can make students more prone to committing or experiencing sexual assault. Rebecca Stotzer uses the routine activities theory, also known as RAT, to examine institutional factors in relation to reported sexual assaults on campus. Stotzer’s studies determined that there are three essential factors in determining how likely sexual assault crimes are to happen in a campus community. Crimes are more likely to occur when there is an available victim, a motivated offender, and poor guardians.

RAT reports that the more time an individual spends on campus, the more likely they are to interact with their perpetrator, increasing the opportunity for assault. According to Stotzer, about eighty percent of college rapes occur in campus dormitories. Living on campus poses a threat to individuals, especially for those who do not tend to leave campus frequently. Individuals can fall into a routine, making it easier for perpetrators to find their victims.

As discussed earlier, the culture of masculinity can pose a threat to the community. Stotzer claims that campus communities that have strong subgroups such as student-athletes and fraternities have a higher rate of sexual assault statistics. These subgroups have a common ideology: drink regularly, party regularly, and conquer women. According to Stotzer, “Group members reported…more hostility towards women, had higher levels of peer support for sexual assault against women and had higher scores in hyper-masculinity and sexual aggression”. It is essential to highlight that membership of these groups does not guarantee a motivated offender. Men who embody masculinized attitudes and are members of these groups often demonstrate higher levels of sexual aggression. In social settings, a combination of being under the influence and filled with adrenaline can result in a man feeling supported in committing a sexualized crime by his peers.

It is important to understand that universities play a role in sexualized violence. The way they are structured, along with the policies and procedures in place, make their students more prone to becoming victims of sexual assault. Greek life is a major component to the violence on college campuses. The congregation of individuals who have similar identities intensifies college culture, heightening the motivation to party. This homogenous culture creates gender inequality, which can be very dangerous in party culture. Additionally, Elizabeth Armstrong believes that universities push their students to interact with Greek life, especially the highly popular fraternity parties. The way in which residence halls are regulated often pushes students to go out and explore off-campus residences, including those of fraternities. Residence halls enforce rigorous state drinking laws, which include harsh punishments such as fines and probation. These consequences do not apply to off-campus culture, which is why students gravitate towards these houses for parties. By pushing their students off-campus to have what is considered a good time, they are putting their students at a higher risk of becoming victims of party rape. It may not be the university directly putting their students in danger, but there is a definite linkage between university policies, fraternity parties, and party rape. Universities should consider that by placing these strict policies, they are not preventing students from drinking. Instead, they are pushing students to drink in less safe environments.

Campus Resources

Although there are aspects in higher institutions that can make students more vulnerable to sexualized violence, campuses also provide many resources for their students to aid them through these tragedies. It is convenient; the fees are much more cost-efficient, there is no need for transportation, and most include a pharmacy for easy prescription pickup. However, these resources are rarely utilized. In a study by Marla Eisenberg and her colleagues, it was demonstrated that student survivors had better coping mechanisms and less PTSD when utilizing the on-campus resources. Correlatively, students who did not make use of on-campus resources had a more difficult time processing their incidents and coping with their trauma. Here we examine why campus resources are not made use of as often as they could be.

The process after being sexually assaulted is not linear; every victim copes differently. There are many factors that determine how survivors cope with what has happened to them. Heidi Deloveh and Lauren Cattaneo focus on deconstructing the mental process of survivors to better understand why students do or do not seek help. This study concludes that there are generally three main categories that survivors use to assess their needs: their perception of severity, labeling, and self-blame. How severe they believe their assault was is a determining factor for seeking or not seeking help. In many cases, it is reported that victims stop resisting their attacker in order to ensure their safety. Because they may not have been notably injured, many believe it is not as detrimental as other cases. This feeling that their case is not as severe as others establish a mentality that campus resources do not apply to them. Additionally, survivors tend to experience difficulties labeling their assault as rape. Because a high percentage of rapes are done by someone you know, it often makes it difficult for a survivor to categorize it as rape. Lastly, self-blame produces a sense of shame in what happened. When a survivor feels shame for what happened to them, they do not want others to know. It creates a lack of motivation to seek help. Understanding these barriers is essential, for it can help us better comprehend the healing processes which in turn can help us cater our resources better to survivors.

One campus resource that is available at almost every college campus is the student health center. These centers typically have resources for students who are survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. Although student fees cover the majority, if not all, of the service fees, they are not frequently utilized by survivors. Valerie Halstead and their colleagues conducted a study to better understand why student survivors have trouble reaching out to their school’s student health center. Through extensive interviews, it is outlined that there are multiple barriers to seeking resources from the health centers, such as inconvenient locations, lack of service knowledge, and unfavorable hours. Having a health center on campus may be convenient for those who do not have reliable transportation. However, it is a common belief that having a student health center with resources to sexualized violence can be less private. Because it is an open space to the campus community, you have a higher possibility of encountering a familiar face. Many survivors seek sexualized violence resources in private, which is then at risk if doing so at the campus health center. Additionally, the study indicated that the majority of students are not familiar with the reporting process and where the health center falls. The fear that the center will be mandated to report an assault often deters students from seeking their resources. Similar to the lack of knowledge of reporting processes, there was also a lack of knowledge of services offered by the health center. Students who were questioned about the health center services often did not know that sexualized violence and domestic violence services were provided at the clinics. There is a common belief that student health centers are only to be utilized for minor, non-emergency incidents. This lack of knowledge discourages many students from sought out help. Many students did not favor the student health centers for acts of sexualized violence because of the unfavorable hours, strict appointment times, and the lack of flexibility. Many students do not direct themselves to the health centers for sexualized violence matters simply because of the unfavorable hours. Anyone can experience sexualized violence at any time of day. When it is past the hours of service for the center, students are forced to seek alternative, off-campus resources. 

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Problem Sexual Assaults On College Campuses. (2022, April 29). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/problem-sexual-assaults-on-college-campuses/
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Problem Sexual Assaults On College Campuses. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/problem-sexual-assaults-on-college-campuses/> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Problem Sexual Assaults On College Campuses [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2022 Apr 29 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/problem-sexual-assaults-on-college-campuses/
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