Mar 012006
 
Authors: Drew Haugen

A woman, scantily dressed, walks home down a dark alley on a weekend night. She is slightly intoxicated from a night of socializing with men at a bar and unfortunately, she has stumbled down the wrong darkened alley. An ominous stranger appears from behind the adjacent dumpster. The vagrant is unshaven, disheveled and brandishing a knife. After this woman stumbles in her high heels and mini-skirt, her assailant grabs her and a sexual assault takes place.

Sound familiar? The preceding description of a sexual assault is probably the worst and most inaccurate description of the typical sexual assault, but it is unfortunately the prevailing definition for many people on a college campus.

Rape is usually committed under the influence of alcohol an estimated 70 percent of the time, according to a Department of Justice study conducted in 2000. Friends, partners, work associates and family members commit rape; 90 percent of the time the victim knew the assailant on at least an acquaintance level on college campuses according to the DOJ study. Rape is typically committed in the home of the victim (60 percent) or the assailant (30 percent) according to the study.

One in four women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. These women are women we love: friends, partners, sisters and daughters. Sexual violence affects us all, and this is why we must educate ourselves and deconstruct the environment in which sexual violence thrives.

To prevent rape and sexual assault, it is important first to recognize what allows sexual violence to thrive, and then how we can change the way we are socially constructed to affect a change in what is called a "rape-supportive society."

Robert Jensen, a University of Texas at Austin journalism professor, clarifies how our society supports rape, "In a culture where the dominant definition of sex is the taking of pleasure from women by men, rape is an expression of the sexual norms of the culture, not violations of those norms. Rape is both nominally illegal and completely normal at the same time."

The way we treat victims who report sexual assault is a measure of how rape-supportive our society is as a whole.

What was she wearing? Who was she with? Where was she? Is she flirtatious? Don't you think she could be making it up?

These questions that sometimes arise after a victim reports a sexual assault are all examples of victim blaming, a strong contributing component to a rape-supportive society.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that less than 2 percent of reported sexual assaults are false claims. This is the same approximate percentage for other crimes, including robbery and theft.

The fact of the matter is that women are not socialized to report false claims of sexual assault but instead the contrary; women are socialized not to report sexual violence at all. Why?

Women are socialized to not talk about sexual violence, and the cumbersome and often victim-blaming process of reporting the crime deters the vast majority of women from reporting; the DOJ estimates that fewer than 5 percent of sexual assaults are reported.

An example? "The rape whistle." Good intentioned?

Let's examine the message of the revered "rape whistle." What is the purpose of a rape whistle? Well, of course, it's for a woman's protection. She can blow on that loud keychain trinket to alert people in her proximity to her dilemma.

The erroneous message that a rape whistle conveys is, firstly, that women are being sexually assaulted strangers in dangerous locales. Secondly, the rape whistle confirms that rape occurs. But instead of working to change the environment in which sexual violence is allowed to thrive, women should protect themselves with their whistles.

Instead of questioning the legitimacy of sexual violence victims' claims, we should instead be concerned about that person finding the resources they need; sexual assault survivors are more than four times as likely to contemplate suicide and 13 times as likely to make a suicidal attempt according to the study Rape in America, conducted in 1992.

We should work to create a culture in which women feel empowered to make their own decisions; because we all will be affected by sexual violence either personally or through the people around us and therefore we will all become survivors ourselves. We should support that person the best we can and should focus our efforts on changing our own attitudes towards sexual violence.

Drew Haugen, a junior international studies major, is a staff writer for the Collegian.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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