Rape culture has completely brainwashed our society to believe that it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect themselves from abuse, rather than prevent abuse in the first place. Parents who want to protect their children from perpetrators, instill messages of “don’t set your drink down at a party” and “safety is in numbers.” While these statements possess truth, they are only necessary because rapists and abusers exist and walk free. Victim blaming must be reframed. Questions like “what were you wearing?” and “why didn’t you say no?” discourage survivors from coming forward with their traumatic experiences. Consent education in middle school and high school must be implemented in order to teach our next generations that it is never okay to abuse or rape someone. History lessons must include the high rates of sexual violence that the LGBTQ+ community and women have faced. The responsibility to prevent violence should not be placed on survivors and vulnerable populations. Every person has the power to prevent violence before it occurs, and intervene when they see behavior that could put someone at risk for violence, victimization or perpetration. Abusers need to be held accountable for their actions and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
At the university level, the time from August to Thanksgiving is known as the “red zone.” The Me Too Movement defines this as the months in which more than 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur. As classes are back in session, many parties are thrown off-campus. Freshmen are especially vulnerable because they are “unfamiliar with the campus and to whom to report a sexual assault.” Although this information can cause mixed feelings of anxiety and anger, Me Too reminds us that knowledge is power.
Most of the time, the abuser isn’t a random shadowy stranger who follows their victim down a dark abandoned alley. According to the Center for Advocacy, Response and Education Center (CARE) at Kansas State, 73 percent of victims know their abuser. The media has misrepresented abusers for decades, when it is usually a friend, partner, colleague or mutual friend that the victim has a connection to. False reports of sexual assaults are rare, between 2 and 10 percent, and the larger part of that percentage comes from victims recanting their case due to backlash, lack of support or threats.
Jessica Henault, the sexual and relationship violence prevention specialist at CARE said this statistic is unusually shocking.
“The media paints an unrealistic image of false reports,” she said. “Most reports of sexual violence are real, and we need to stop victim-blaming and shaming survivors for reporting.”
A Campus Climate Survey conducted by the Association of American Universities in 2019 stated anyone can experience sexual violence; but their research shows that undergraduate freshmen women and members of the LGBTQ+ community experience the highest rates of sexual violence. Female graduate students experience the highest rate of sexual harassment. Of the population of cisgender women, 1 in 4 will experience sexual violence in college. For cisgender men, 1 in 16 will become survivors of this trauma and finally, 1 in 4 transgender individuals will experience these abuse crimes. Sexual violence is typically not about the sexual act, but about the control the abuser feels the need to have over their victim.
Professor Angela Hubler of the Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies department said most scholars say that gendered violence is basically a tool members of privilege use to exert power over others.
“So that tells us why women, LGBTQ people, immigrant populations and people of color are all targets of violence,” she said.
Hubler said LGBTQ people who don’t conform to traditional masculinity, femininity or compulsory heterosexuality can be seen as a “threat” to male and heterosexual economic and political power. This is because that power is justified and normalizes hierarchies which benefit dominant groups that make that power appear to be differences between men and women.
“If you’re a gender non-conforming person or a woman that does not conform to traditional femininity, then those lines get blurred and those hierarchies and powers don’t seem so natural anymore,” she said. “So that is a threat to those groups who have power. Violence is just a means to discipline and punish people who balance that power.”
Many factors of rape and abuse culture determine why violence is still accepted and perpetuated within our society. Cross-cultural studies have shown that the more peaceful and egalitarian a society is, the lower the levels of rape will be Hubler said.
“Overall our society is quite violent, and the levels of gender violence track overall violence,” she said. “Region is also another factor because some conservative religious traditions condemn homosexuality and gender non-conforming behavior, and that encourages those who feel threatened to exert their power in violent ways.”
Henault said many sexual assaults, especially among college students, involve the use of drugs and alcohol within social settings. But sexual violence can occur in any environment, and K-State is not immune to this. In a campus climate survey sent out to every student this past year, one of the primary concerns was sexual harassment and date rape. Henault said that the first step to prevent and end violence on K-State’s campus is to recognize and acknowledge that these crimes happen here. Our leaders in the Office of Institutional Equity and Student Life must be held accountable for failing to investigate off-campus rapes and other countless incidents of abuse. More than four lawsuits against our university have been filed to defend student’s Title IX rights and the Administrative Review Team’s refusal to expel rapists. Title IX protects U.S. citizens from sexual discrimination in education or other programs receiving federal aid.
In 2014, the New York Times interviewed two women who filed a joint lawsuit claiming that K-State officials refused to investigate their rape cases because they occurred off campus in fraternity houses. K-State is one of few universities in the U.S. that has disaffiliated itself from Greek Life in order to wash their hands of this responsibility. Currently, our university sits at the third highest in the nation with the most Title IX cases under federal investigation, right behind Princeton and Cornell. This past August, Secretary of Education Betsy Devos implemented a new Title IX rule that drastically reduces protections for student survivors. Visit Know Your IX to educate yourself about this change and listen to our university officials discuss K-State’s response on the Office of Institutional Equity Title IX page.
“At least 50 percent of college sexual assaults occur when one or both individuals are under the influence of alcohol,” Henault said. “Drinking alcohol does not excuse sexual violence in any way and choosing to drink alcohol does not warrant any fault on the victim. No matter how much alcohol or other substances an individual chooses to consume, that does not make assault okay, either as the victim or the perpetrator.”
Education is vital for bystanders to be able to intervene and stop a potential sexual violence crime from occuring at parties, in residence halls, at bars in aggieville and all over K-State’s campus and the Manhattan community. CARE has an hour-long sexual assault bystander intervention program called Wildcats Make a Pact that teaches how to safely intervene if you witness behavior that could put others at risk of violence, victimization or perpetration.
“Acting as prosocial bystanders is critical in preventing and ending violence on K-State’s campus,” Henault said.
If you’re interested in participating in the Wildcats Make a Pact program, please contact Jessica Henault at [email protected].