Does rape culture exist on college campuses?


Fact Box

  • Rape is a local and federal crime, which, up until 2008, was still punishable in the US by death. Punishments vary by state
  • In 2015, the DOJ released the results of an 8-year study called 'Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization Among College-Age Females, 1995-2013,' which found that the incidence of rape, attempted rape, and sexual assault among college students was 6.1 per thousand or 0.6%.  
  • The researchers who conducted the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study have since stated that citing the '1 in 5' statistic as a baseline for discussing women who will experience sexual assault and rape on campuses is inappropriate as it is not a nationally representative estimate of the prevalence of sexual assault.
  • 'Rape culture' is defined as 'a subset of values, beliefs, and behaviors in a society that trivializes or normalizes sexual violence, including rape.'
  • Sexual violence affects both men and women but affects women at higher rates than men.
  • College review and data-collecting site Niche revealed the nation's top safest universities for 2023. The top five include Concordia University (St. Paul, MN), Bay Path University (Longmeadow, MA), Geneva College (Beaver Falls, PA), Penn State Lehigh Valley (Center Valley, PA), and Joyce University of Nursing and Health Sciences (Draper, UT).

Emma (Yes)

While addressing sexual violence in society has increased in recent years, rape culture and sexual assault is still widespread across campuses. Colleges and universities have integrated anti-sexual assault seminars, resources, and groups into campus life to educate students about the problem and how to stop it. Still, the disciplinary system for accused assailants doesn't always produce the proper punishment (as these are not official adjudications) and can result in victim blaming. Sexual assault survivors must often fight the stigma of having been sexually assaulted in the first place while resisting the rape culture assertion that they’re responsible for preventing their rape. 

When a person accused of sexual violence faces disciplinary processes, people's gut reaction is to ask whether it was a drunken mistake or if the victim simply regretted the encounter after it happened and chose to lie about the circumstances. Such was the case with the infamous Brock Turner campus assault trial. This reinforces rape culture that says it was the victim's fault. Further, when the accused go to trial, they are typically given extremely lenient sentences, if any, especially when accused individuals are White, male, wealthy, or athletes. Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail and only served three after being witnessed and found guilty of assaulting an unconscious woman on campus because it was worried a harsher sentence would damage his swimming career. The lack of justice for victims further trivializes on-campus sexual assault and upholds the culture that allows sexual violence to be the social norm. While the awareness of campus sexual violence has increased, we haven't won the fight just yet. Until we do, we must recognize the persistence of rape culture persisting in higher education.

Suzanne (No)

One rape, no matter when, where, or how it happens, is still a heinous crime and one too many. But if sexual violence towards women at universities is staggeringly high, why would parents ever willingly send their daughters there? Why would women around the globe work tirelessly to attend campuses deemed unsafe by way of having a 'rape culture'? Studies that created and restated the '1-in-5' statistic did so by conflating penetration 'rape' with all other unwanted sexual contact, including 'forced kissing,' 'fondling,' etc. Surveyed participants were asked if they considered these encounters' rape.' Three-quarters didn't, and half said they were partially or fully responsible for what occurred. These studies are faulty since they broaden the definition of rape, and the authors—not the participants—determined the number of victims who had experienced 'non-consensual or unwanted sexual contact.' 

Universities don't even view alleged sex crimes on their campuses serious enough to warrant arrest since the majority of sexual-assault charges—which, if true, belong only in the criminal justice system—are often handled by academic tribunals that disregard due process, the presumption of innocence, and the right of cross-examination for those accused. The term 'rape culture' is not only too vague, including actions that definitionally aren't rape, but also slander men since it suggests that all men are on the verge of raping women. Boys in our society aren't taught to be pro-rape. Rape isn't promoted, celebrated, or tolerated. Ironically, universities have played a role in encouraging environments that only increase the chances of sexual danger: the drunken hookup culture. Treating people as mere sexual opportunities is the direct result of a sexual revolution that removes all traditional norms and reverence around sex.

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