Does rape culture exist on college campuses?


Fact Box

  • Rape is a national crime, which, up until 2008, was still punishable in the US by death [1]. 
  • 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% [2]. 
  • 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 [3].
  • Rape culture defined: a subset of values, beliefs, and behaviors in a society that trivializes or normalizes sexual violence, including rape [4].
  • Sexual violence affects both men and women, but affect women at higher rates than men [5].
  • Due to low report rates and flawed survey methodologies, we do not know the real rate of sexual violence on college campuses [6,7].

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 an environment so unsafe? Studies that created and restate the 1-in-4/1-in-5 statistic do so by conflating penetration ‘rape’ with all other unwanted sexual contact, including ‘forced kissing,’ ‘fondling,’ etc. [1,2,3,4]. Surveyed participants were asked if they considered these encounters ‘rape.’ Three-quarters didn’t [6], and half said they were partially or fully responsible for what occurred [1,4]. 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” [5,7]. 

 Universities themselves 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 via academic tribunals that disregard due process, the presumption of innocence, and the right of cross-examination for those accused [5]. The term “rape culture” is not only too vague, including actions that definitionally aren’t rape, but also slanders 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 [7]. Treating people as sexual opportunities is the direct result of a sexual revolution that’s removed all traditional norms and reverence around sex. 

Emma (Yes)

The recent years have seen progress in combating the sexual violence that has plagued our society in the past, but rape culture is still alive and well. On college campuses, universities have begun to include anti-sexual assault seminars and resources in their school, but the disciplinary system accused assailants go through lags far behind and blames victims, and the language universities include in their sexual violence resources almost universally revolve around women being responsible for preventing their own rape, rather than emphasizing a person’s responsibility to not inflict violence.

When a person accused of sexual violence faces the 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 in the case of accused individuals who 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 [1]. 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. Universities have started to take on campus sexual violence, but we haven’t won the fight just yet. Until we do, we must recognize the persistence of rape culture in our colleges.

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