Rape on a University Campus

29 Aug

A few days ago, the University of Michigan sent an e-mail to its students, faculty, and staff updating them on the police investigation of the recent rise of sexual attacks near campus.  The women involved were attacked in stairwells, parking structures, and on the street.  Although some of the attacks happened at night, at least one occurred in the afternoon as a woman went to a parking structure to get her car.  Initially, the university’s response seemed inadequate and almost laughable.  It urged young women to be careful and to never walk by themselves.  It was as though most women were already worried about being attacked, and that it was up to us to make sure that we weren’t attacked.   One of my friends, angered by the university’s response, posted the following guide to men on how to avoid sexually assaulting women.  It began simply, “If you see a woman walking alone, don’t follow her.  If she is wearing clothing you think are revealing, do not think that she deserves whatever she gets.  And, no matter what happens, don’t rape her.”

As time passed, however, the university’s response got better.  Officials at the university agreed to meet with one of my friends who was particularly concerned about what the campus’ response was going to be.  She had been assaulted once in New York and was determined that the university should do everything in its power to prevent other young women from being assaulted after the reports initially began to circulate.  The university has also sent out multiple e-mails about the investigation and was supportive of a Take Back the Night Rally.

I applaud the university’s response to the rapes, but I think we need to expand the way that we think about rape and the way in which we respond to it.  Although the university’s efforts have been commendable, most rapes do not occur in parking lots, elevators, or staircases.  They occur in apartments, bedrooms, and at parties.  Most women are raped by men that they know, not by strangers.  I would like to see campuses like the University of Michigan become more involved in preventing these everyday, more frequent types of rape.  There needs to be education and activism to stop sexual violence within relationships and by acquaintances.  Focusing too much on one type of rape without being equally vocal about the others spreads the misperception that the danger of being raped is one that exists primarily in the streets and not within the walls of your home and those of your friends.


16 Responses to “Rape on a University Campus”

  1. jks August 29, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    I agree. To stop rape we need to teach men how to not rape….not teach women how not to be a victim. The point is that they are the victim, not the perpetrator. To stop/reduce littering, they launched a campaign teaching people to not litter….they didn’t ask streets and parks to stop being there to be littered on.

  2. Mark B. August 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    Yeah, and we stop murders by teaching men (and in the rare instance, women) not to commit murders. But until we succeed (and somehow since Cain slew Abel we haven’t completely won the battle), we teach people to take precautions to avoid being killed.

  3. amanda5245 August 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

    @ Mark B. — Right, except women are already taking precautions. I always try to walk home with someone else late at night. I’ve taken self-defense classes. I am watchful when I do have to walk home by myself. Most of the girls I know are the same way. We’ve been taught to be cautious, to be watchful, to be afraid. We’ve taught girls to be afraid of the dark. In spite of the precautions that women are taught to take, though, women are still raped. Every day. And here’s the thing rape isn’t confined to the street. It occurs mainly in people’s homes and by people they know. In a study conducted in England and Wales, 97% of women knew their assailant before they raped. Am I supposed to also fear all of my male friends? Are women supposed to view every date, every boyfriend, as a potential rapist? I’m not saying that women should be cautious, but we need to focus just as much attention on boys and men. As one of my friends pointed out, if most the conversations we have about rape is about what women can do to prevent it, then if it isn’t prevented, if a woman is raped, the sense that she gets is that its her fault.

    For statistics on rape (including the one above), see: http://www.cer.truthaboutrape.co.uk/3.html

  4. jks August 29, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Mark B., do we actually teach men/boys to not murder and not rape? We don’t. I know a lot of people who know they are supposed to talk to their children/daughters about trying to avoid being molested, trying to avoid dangerous situations, etc. However, I have never heard anyone but myself admit that we are supposed to teach our sons how not to sexually assault a woman.

  5. John Roberts August 29, 2011 at 10:12 pm #

    As any woman who has been sexually assaulted knows, the narrative we tell in our society about rape far from the reality.

    This is the reality:
    1) Most women are raped by someone they know.
    2) Acquaintances use force. Strangers use drugs.
    3) Psychological studies suggest that huge majority of rapes are committed by serial rapists- misogynistic sexual predators who view women as the enemy in a war between the sexes.
    There are individuals out there who are very good at preying on women, having admittedly committed hundreds of rapes, and yet have never been prosecuted.
    4) Most rapes are not reported. Of rapes reported, only 50% are prosecuted. If a rapist is convicted, there is still 1/3 chance that he never serve any jail time.
    No, we do not teach men it is not OK to rape.
    5) Stranger rape where a woman is overpowered by physical force are a very small minority of attacks.
    6) Most rapists choose their victims carefully, seeking out women who can be psychologically as well as physically intimidated. Due to the shame factor in society, many women refuse to acknowledge, even to themselves, that they have been raped, even when lack of consent was obvious– for example, they were unconscious.

    Easy Rule: if a man talks like a misogynistic predator, he probably is a misogynistic predator. In the real world, a character such as the one Neil Patrick Harris plays on “How I Met Your Mother” would almost certainly be a serial rapist, and would rape again in the future.

    Men ought to be telling their acquaintances who boast about sexual exploits “Gee, that sounds like rape to me” a lot more than they do.

    “The problem is thinking that those with power actually want to stop rape. If you look at the way, say, your average university handles a rape allegation what you see is a move to protect the school from liability and preserve it’s reputation.”

    And then there is this exchange which we see repeated throughout the world, and throughout history:

    Red Army: We will humiliate you by raping your women!
    (Next Year)
    Blue Army: We will have our revenge by raping your women!
    (Next Year)
    Both Armies: We now declare peace. Now we can go back to raping our own women!

  6. Cynthia L. August 29, 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    Mark B: Society already clearly disapproves of murder, and everybody knows this. If somebody still murders, there’s not much more society can do, so just telling people to try to stay safe is all that’s left really.

    However, society does not already clearly disapprove of rape. Certain kinds of rape, sure. We disapprove the heck out of pedophiles. And we disapprove the heck out of a dude in a black sweatsuit and ski mask, ducking behind a bush with a rope, lassoing so a passerby upper class blond unquestionably virgin jogger. But anything that doesn’t fit that scenario, we’re not willing to call real rape, and we’re not willing to disapprove. If a woman is passed out, and a man rapes her, our reaction is (a) she shouldn’t have gotten so drunk and (b) he “had sex with her,” not “he raped her.” If a woman is making out with a guy on a date, decides she’s through and says “stop,” and he doesn’t, (a) we say she should have done XYZ to prevent it, (b) again we won’t call it rape.

    I could pull a dozen flagrant, appalling real-life examples of the above, but point being, it’s time for society to back off giving women utterly useless advice and start teaching our boys and men that rape is unacceptable, and that thing you thought was a good idea, yeah, that’s rape too buddy. Real rape. Not “rape-ish” or whatever rape-apologist BS people come up with. Just rape.

    • Stephen M (Ethesis) August 30, 2011 at 7:54 am #

      College rapes are an important sub-system, involving as it does, attitudes on the side of the perpetrators that can be changed for many of them.

      Much of it has to do with making the point that the old saying “candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” should be reread as “intoxication does not equal consent” and its variants (e.g. Mike Tison and “allowing you to get me alone does not equal consent.” etc.).

      Most serial predators are not amenable to education, but many college students are — but it is a cultural thing. A huge first step is getting rid of varsity athletics and fraternities. Those groups account for more than half of the rapes.

      Get rid of student drinking and drug use in addition and you will have the rape incidence down to about a tenth of what it was.

      Which illustrates the problems a college has in having an impact on the problem.

  7. amanda5245 August 30, 2011 at 4:11 am #

    John Roberts and Cynthia L., Thanks for your comments. They’re beautifully and forcefully put and a much needed reminder about the reality of rape.

  8. Anon August 30, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    What about letting women carry concealed weapons on campus? Packing heat levels the field.

  9. SilverRain August 30, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Anon—are you serious? Or are you tongue-in-cheek? What on earth does “packing heat” have to do with anything?

  10. amanda5245 August 30, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    @Stephen — Great point. There’s definitely a culture on college campuses that promotes rape – a lot has to do with alcohol and drug use. That said, I wouldn’t be willing to completely do away from fraternities. I think the historical black fraternities serve a real purpose on college campuses as do some other ones, BUT I would be all for taking a radical, strict approach to regulating fraternities and sororities. First up for me would be pledge week. Campuses need to end the week-long debauch that pledge can become. Fraternities and sororities that recruit through alcohol and parties need be investigated and punished. Second, I think colleges need to be more willing to disband houses where things have become a problem. If every rape case meant that your house was investigated and faced possible disbarment, fraternities and sororities would clean up their acts.

  11. amanda5245 August 30, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Also, my undergraduate campus had fraternities and sororities but they were small and the sororities weren’t allowed to have houses. Out of the 3 fraternities on campus, only one was a den of iniquity. The others were pretty mild. The sororities were the tamest thing I’ve seen. They still drank and threw parties, but nothing worse than the tame graduate school parties I go to now. Of course, my college had banned the worst of the fraternities from campus just a few years earlier. They no longer existed when I got there.

  12. rk August 30, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Silver Rain,
    Yes I was serious. I would be much safer walking around on campus if I had a concealed weapon and knew how to use it. A rapist might think twice before assaulting a potential victim that could blow his brains out.

    Firearms can empower woman. I’m not a man or rapist, but if I were I would avoid any known female firearms enthusiast. Imagine arriving to pick up a first date only to see her finishing a gun cleaning.

  13. SilverRain August 31, 2011 at 8:59 am #

    rk— First, guns are not terribly effective close-combat weapons. Secondly, most rapes are by people you know, and often trust. So unless you’re willing to pack a gun all the time, what are the chances you’re going to have one handy when you need it? Thirdly, external weapons are easily turned against you in rape situations, all it takes is the rapist knowing it is there. Which, for non-stranger rapists, is likely.

    In my opinion, you’re much better off training the weapons you already have with you at all times by learning effective self-defense. If for no other reason, they are much more difficult to use against you.

  14. zillah September 1, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

    great post. rape and sexual assault are huge problems here at notre dame–i just wish that our administration took the problem seriously.

    i do, however, think that a reminder is in order: men are also victims of rape, and women are rapists. while the overwhelming majority of rape victims are women, not mentioning these facts erases a large number of victims who tend to be even more reticent to report or discuss their assault.

  15. amanda5245 September 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    @ SilverRain — Excellent points. I would underline the fact that weapons are more likely to be used against you than to help you. They also tend to escalate the situation and make the use of further violence in addition to rape more likely.

    @ Zillah — You bring up an important point on the existence of male rape victims. One of the things that not including them in the narrative (as I did above) does is it makes so rape is just about women and makes it more difficult to make men realize that rape is about them as well (and not just as perpetrators.)

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