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Faculty Column

By now, most of our community knows about the sexual assaults (and strange lurkings) on campus this past September and earlier this year. For many, it’s the first time they have been jolted out of complacency about rape on college campuses, especially rape on our campus. For those of us who are or have been involved over the years in educating our community about rape, incidents of sexual assault on campus are, unfortunately, not new. What is different and a little shocking about these most recent instances of sexual assault are that they seem to have been committed by strangers, not someone known to the victims, or at least that seems to be the assumption since we don’t know for sure.

There are many, many examples of violent crime on college and university campuses, and evident to many now is the fact that college campuses are not bucolic refuges from the world of crime and violence. The violence hitting so close to home, however, has an especially harsh sting.

“Rape.” Few words in our language have the power that the word “rape” does. Few words conjure up such a horrible image. Rape is a potentially life-threatening crime that many argue is the ultimate act of violation of one’s body, spirit, and soul. In the 10 to 20 minutes it takes you to read and think about this article, four to16 people, primarily women, will be raped. Unfortunately, rape is a sinister part of the fabric of everyday life, affecting the quality of life of all of us. The face of a victim or potential victim is the face of your friend, the face of your sister, or nephew, or classmate, it is your face. My message here is for everyone.

She cut class to go drinking with a male friend.

They took a walk in the woods.

Everything was fine until he started making weird, crude remarks, which she ignored because she didn’t want to make a scene or seem uncool.

He started to kiss her and touch her shirt.

She said “no,” that she didn’t feel comfortable.

He ignored her and became more aggressive.

She tried to push away.

He knocked her to the ground and tried to rape her.

She struggled and got away and never told a soul about the incident.

Not until over 20 years had passed did she realize how close she came that day to being raped and began to speak about it.

The sense of violation still lingers.

Myths and Facts

No crime is as misunderstood as is the crime of rape. The misunderstanding is the result of numerous myths about the crime, the offenders, and the victims. Rape myths need to be dispelled by providing factual information. For instance, some would argue the word rape means something different if it’s preceded by the word “date” or “acquaintance,” but most experts agree that it makes no difference – a person was still raped, someone was still victimized by a violent crime. Since no one is exempt from the possibility of rape, the more one knows, the more likely it is that that knowledge can help save someone from being victimized.

Let’s start with what we know about rape. First, a definition – rape is threatening, coercing or forcing someone into sexual acts without her/his consent. (By the way, if someone is in some way under the influence of alcohol or other drugs, the law holds that he or she is incapable of giving consent.)

Fact #1 – Did you know that of the 200,000-plus rapes committed each year (some advocacy groups double that number), 70% are committed by a non-stranger, i.e., someone known, most often someone known relatively well. Incidentally, in nearly 100% of all male rape cases, the victim and offender are strangers.

Fact #2 – Only about a third of all rapes are reported, making rape the most underreported violent crime. This means that most rapists are never held accountable for their actions and are free to repeatedly victimize others. Why such a low percentage? The most common reason victims give for not reporting is that is a private or personal matter. Of course, rape is not a private matter but a very public concern for each and every one of us.

Fact #3 – While anyone can be a rape victim, most victims are female (89%), meaning also that 11% are male (not including the rape of males in jail or prison). According to some studies, over 50% of women have experienced some form of sexual victimization since age 14. One in four female college students and one in 10 male students are rape victims.

Fact #4 – There is no typical rapist, other than typically young males acting alone (but did you know that 1 in 50 women are arrested for sexual assault?). What rapists do share is the motivation underlying the violent act. According to Dr. A. Nicholas Groth, the three major reasons for rape are: (1) anger and rage: hateful, ruthless attack aimed at hurting the victim, (2) power and control: aim to possess and dominate, and (3) sadism: sexual pleasure out of intentionally and cruelly inflicting pain and suffering. It may be worth mentioning that surveys have shown as many as 9% of college males report committing rape, and another 17% admit to being sexually abusive or coercive. In a nationwide survey asking college males the likelihood of raping if assured they would not be caught, 30% said some likelihood and another 30% said some likelihood of using force short of rape.

Fact #5 – Rape by non-strangers happens for some unique reasons. Rape is most often a planned, premeditated act of violence, whether the victim-offender relationships are stranger or non-stranger. However, even the opportunistic or impulsive rapist plans to obtain sexual activity by force and/or seeks the right opportunity and/or target (e.g., victims who are alone, who seem vulnerable, are preoccupied, or seem easily intimidated, and so on).

Fact #6 – Young adults, ages 16-24, are the most likely of all age groups to be victims and offenders, and the least likely to report crime. What makes young college students more vulnerable? Basically, a combination of factors related to lifestyle, i.e., daily activities that increase one’s exposure to high risk situations, places, and people. College students:

* Have more contacts with strangers perceived to be friends, especially in public places, at night, and tend to take many more risks

* Freely give out personal information to people. Do you really think that posting everything about yourself on such Web sites as Facebook and MySpace is a smart and safe choice?

* Tend to have attitudes of little to no fear, and the “it won’t happen to me” syndrome, thinking that a college campus is immune from crime, all of which ultimately make students vulnerable

* Deal with substance abuse. Of all rapes nationwide, victims report the rapists were under the influence in 50% of all instances, and that rises to 90% for college students. Being drunk or high reduces judgment, the ability to defend oneself and/or the ability to identify a rapist, and allows for easy access and control. Be aware: Rohypnol or “roofies” is the brand name for a drug called “flunitrazepam,” a sedative ten times stronger than Valium. It creates a sleepy, very drunk feeling lasting two to eight hours. The drug, frequently used in combination with alcohol, has no taste or odor. After 10 minutes, victims may feel dizzy and disoriented, simultaneously hot and cold, nauseated, and may experience difficulty in speaking and moving, then pass out, with no memories of what happened.

Rape Prevention

The physical security of the campus environment is extremely important. Our campus should have drastically improved lighting, 24-hour locked dormitories with card control access, unobstructed grounds, surveillance cameras, more blue lights, and much more.

But perhaps just as important as the physical security are the procedural steps to prevent victimization. For instance, what good do dormitories that can be locked down 24-7 do if students prop open the doors? A campus can and should be made more physically secure, but people must also back that up with basic safety measures. We all have to look out for each other and remind each other about that, not just immediately following a crisis such as this one, but every day. We can’t become complacent after the immediacy has passed.

The key to personal security is education, awareness, and taking some common sense precautions. Almost no one is defenseless against rape, and there are many things within your power and control. Rape prevention means anticipating and recognizing the potential risk of rape and taking action to reduce that risk.

So, what can you do?

Everyone must take personal responsibility to publicly make it clear that rape and sexual assault won’t be tolerated. Rape is not just a woman’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem. Speaking mainly to the men briefly, you know that most men don’t rape, but some men still believe when a woman says no, she doesn’t mean it. You can set them straight.

People who respect others don’t threaten or force them to do things they don’t want to. You also know that some men still believe it’s OK to use any means to get what they want, including violence. Tell them it is never OK. Remind them that women aren’t property or objects. Male sexual aggression isn’t natural or normal. Tell others that rape is not about sex but about intimidation, coercion, force, violence, anger – where a sexual act is the weapon to humiliate, terrify, and hurt.

There is a hidden culture of rape in many societies, ours included, that perpetuates sexual assault. Rape won’t stop until offenders stop raping, and rapists won’t stop until other men, good men, speak up.

To reduce the chances of rape, remember six basic rules:

1. Don’t give anyone an opportunity to rape. FBI interviews with serial rapists find that the number one reason for choosing victims, regardless of victim/offender relationship, is opportunity and location. So, to reduce one’s risk:

* avoid walking alone at night, especially in dark or isolated areas

* don’t leave doors/windows unlocked or propped

* don’t forget to let friends/family your plans

* don’t walk around absent-mindedly, be alert

* avoid all risky places and situations

2. Trust your instincts. Know yourself, your inner voice. Rely on your intuition. Be appropriately wary. Don’t assume someone known is someone to be trusted.

3. Stay in your comfort zone and away from potentially threatening, troublesome, or high risk people and situations. Perhaps those most vulnerable to rape are those with an unwillingness to acknowledge situations as potentially dangerous.

4. Learn to recognize danger signals, i.e., know the good from the bad and the ugly. Those with domineering, jealous, and possessive personalities or those who harbor attitudes of hostility and anger toward women, or warped views of women or who blame other rape victims are people to avoid.

5. Be alert, aware, in control, and in charge of yourself and your environment. Many rape victims are not prepared for the possibility of rape. Rape doesn’t need to be perceived as a probability, but understanding and accepting that it is a possibility is key to preventing it.

6. Be assertive and insist on respect – you deserve it. Rapists tend to prey on passive people. Don’t get raped because you were too polite to get out of danger. Use the word “no” with confidence, say it loudly. Carry yourself with strength and confidence because body language works. Self-defense is about awareness, assertiveness, verbal skills, and safety strategies, not just physical techniques.

For many, this is our home away from home, and we need to protect each other as we would any other family member. Each of us, men and women, can do more. We can learn more about prevention so that there is one less rape victim. We can all take more responsibility for and more control of our own safety and for the well-being of those we care about. Are you ready, and will you stay ready, to do your part?