“On Saturday, April 20, 2013, at 12:30 a.m., a female Fordham University student was sexually assaulted near the corner of Lorillard Place and East 187th Street. The student was walking back to campus alone when she was attacked in front of 2388 Lorillard Place by a male between 20 and 30 years old, clean shaven, approximately 6 feet 2 in height with a thin build. He was wearing a heavy link gold neck chain, a black, long-sleeve shirt, and blue jeans. The student fought off her attacker and returned to campus” (Fordham University Campus Security).
All students, faculty, staff, and guests of Fordham University received this Campus Security alert via e-mail the morning following the incident. Not only is this one of the many campus security alerts on sexual assault, it is also evidence of the shocking statistic that one in four women experience sexual assault within their academic careers (Hirsch 52). In fact, according to the United States Department of Justice, college attendance has become a risk factor for sexual assault (United States 2). The proof that sexual violence against women is a problem in college shows colleges’ urgent need to take action. In addition to being academic environments, colleges are also the social communities and homes of their students. The law even states that colleges are obligated to ensure that their campuses are not sexually hostile environments; Title IX demands colleges to respond promptly to any sexual violence complaints and offer necessary support services to victims (Bolger 1). While some may assert that sexual violence prevention education should begin in middle school or high school, colleges must emphasize education on sexual violence prevention to reinforce healthy social attitudes of young adults. Colleges can fortify students’ respect for one another and reduce sexual violence against women through revising sexual assault prevention programs, dismantling bystander ignorance, and leading by example.
Colleges can begin this change through redesigning sexual violence prevention programs. Many programs’ primary stratagem is to advise women to reduce their risks of being a victim. For example, many programs warn women to avoid wearing revealing clothing, allowing attackers to claim that a woman’s provocative attire instigated the assault. Fordham University’s Campus Assault and Relationship Education (CARE) guide adopts a risk-reduction approach, including tips such as being aware of one’s surroundings (Fordham University Division of Student Affairs 4). This approach places the majority of the responsibility on female victims, and victim blaming can excuse or even validate an assailant’s action. Instead, the responsibility for sexual assault needs to shift to the perpetrator. While it is smart to be cognizant of risk-reduction strategies, colleges must move away from teaching “don’t get raped” and perpetuating victim blaming. Instead, colleges must shift the focus to teaching “don’t rape.”
Besides taking effect in sexual violence prevention programs, elimination of victim blaming should also take place in colleges’ methods of reporting sexual violence incidents. In The Macho Paradox, author and anti-sexism activist Dr. Jackson Katz argues for shifting the misplaced blame onto perpetrators. Dr. Katz points out that even something as simple as revising passive language in reports of sexual violence can place blame onto perpetrators. For instance, instead of “A female Fordham University student was sexually assaulted,” Fordham’s campus security alert should read, “A male sexually assaulted a female Fordham University student.” This makes the assailant the subject, transposes the responsibility to the attacker, and creates a greater impression upon audiences. The original wording of the campus security alert demonstrates how the language used in reporting sexual violence incidents is passive by habit and often goes unnoticed. Highlighting the aggression of the attacker, instead of asserting it was the mistake of the victim, is the first step of changing attitudes that endorse sexual violence against women.
In incidents of violence against women, the victim and the attacker are not the only parties involved. Another important but often overlooked group are the bystanders who have the ability to intervene and stop the attacker. However, in college settings they often do not. According to a study on bystander attitudes among college students, the lack of bystander intervention is a result of ignorance (McMahon 8). Many bystanders simply do not understand what constitutes sexual assault, leading them to neglect of the severity of the crimes that seem common in college environments, especially at parties or bars. This ignorance is a critical issue, because if bystanders do not understand that there is a crime occurring, they will not see a reason to intervene. For instance, in the sexual assault case of a female high school student in Steubenville, Ohio, student witnesses testified that they did not deem the drunken actions of their peers, the male perpetrators, as wrong. One bystander stated that he did not see any physical force being used against the victim, and therefore did not consider the perpetrators’ actions as sexual assault (Wetzel 1). However, the victim, who passed out from drinking, was unable to move, speak, or defend herself. Thus, the perpetrators did not need to use physical force against her to assault her. Sexual violence prevention education must teach bystanders that rape and sexual assault are not limited to cases where violent force was used; bystanders must be able to see that if a girl is incapacitated and unable to say yes to engage in any sexual activity, she should be left alone.
Bystander education, a key part of a sexual assault prevention program, must thoroughly educate students on the range of actions that constitute sexual assault and suggest prevention strategies they might use if they witness such behavior. Educated bystanders can intervene through simply voicing their disapproval of the assailant’s wrongdoings. Because young adults fear social rejection, understanding that sexual violence is unacceptable will lead them to reconsider their behavior and see that sexual violence is also incongruent with social norms. Sexual violence prevention education must empower bystanders to redirect the fear of social rejection that hinders them from speaking up and use it to inspire fear in the perpetrators. Furthermore, bystanders need to be thoroughly educated on when it is necessary to intervene. With their abilities to prevent the attacks from occurring, bystanders are integral to reduction of sexual violence incidents.
Effective education, however, must be continuous and personal. The typical college seminar and presentation held at freshman orientation is inadequate. Oftentimes, the information provided will be received dismissively by students and later forgotten. Programs must be comprehensive and include continuing, interactive sessions to establish substantial change (NVAWPRC 3). College sexual assault prevention programs should take place periodically throughout students’ college careers to reinforce understanding of sexual violence against women. Sexual violence prevention education must explicitly define the components of sexual violence, hold interactive discussions, and provide procedural advice on ways bystanders can take action. Colleges must keep reminding their students to recognize the gravity of sexual violence until students find the recognition of sexual violence to be instinctive and intuitive.
Besides providing education on sexual violence prevention to its students, student leaders and college administrators must work together to create a culture of respect that reduces the risk of sexual violence on campus. In April 2013, Harvard students protested the selection of rapper Tyga as the headliner to their campus event known as Yardfest. Many students, upset with Tyga’s sexist lyrics, petitioned to rescind Harvard’s invitation for Tyga to perform. Even though the petition had over 2000 signatories, Harvard student organizations Harvard Concert Commission (HCC) and College Events Board (CEB) decided to keep Tyga as their headliner. However, the Dean’s office funded another musician to perform for the students who did not wish to attend the Tyga concert. The CEB further invited students to participate in a discussion on Tyga’s invitation to Yardfest after apologizing for failing to coordinate an all-inclusive event for the student body (Anasu). Though the response may have seemed like the best solution at the time, the student leaders of HCC and CEB should have been more cautious in selecting a musician. Student leaders represent the student body; it is the responsibility of student leaders to foresee that a performer would offend a portion of the student body and find a more suitable performer that would accommodate all students. Furthermore, Havard’s administration could have averted the crisis by being more thorough in the Yardfest musician approval process. After careful reviewing of Tyga’s lyrics, the advisers of HCC and CEB should have questioned whether Tyga was the ideal choice and noted that some students may find him offensive. Though advisers should not dictate student-run events, they can provide valuable insight and a perspective to consider so that events are welcoming to all constituents of the student body. While college administrations and student leaders cannot control the entertainment media’s constant misogyny, they can and should avoid providing a forum for entertainers who promote the subjugation of women.
Many may argue that the outcry against Tyga performing at Harvard was blown out of proportion, asserting that men will not be driven to engaging in sexual violence against women merely by being exposed to sexist media. However, many people fail to see that young adults are so submerged in a world of sexist media that they may not even realize its subconscious effects. Various popular song lyrics objectify women, glorifying the hypersexualization of females. For example, Tyga’s “Rack City” lyrics repeatedly refer to females as “bitch” (Tyga). The song name itself is degrading to women and is furthermore set in a strip club. From songs like this, hierarchical gender roles are set where men’s power to objectify women sexually is taken for granted. Furthermore, while sexist lyrics will not cause most men to commit sexual assault, they still may affect the attitudes and actions of some. If colleges allowed entertainers who promote the oppression of women and who assert male superiority, they will be endorsing the sexism against women that creates an environment conducive to sexual violence. College administrations must make a steadfast stance in respecting women and leading by example; if the institution itself cannot show its respect for women, it cannot expect its male constituents to do the same. Therefore, college administrations must ensure that their actions and decisions consider its female students and preserve the best interest of the community as a whole. If respect for women emanates within collegiate institutions, the respect will ultimately take root within students and extinguish outdated, sexist mentalities.
Colleges have the obligation to provide a physically and emotionally safe environment for its entire student body. Sexual violence against women is a serious detractor to maintaining such security, and thus colleges should seek solutions to prevent such incidents. The cost of the efforts to restructure ineffective sexual violence prevention education programs is little in comparison to the substantial benefits it can reap. Not only will the college environments be enhanced overall, but students will develop healthy mentalities that they will carry throughout their lives. While eradication of sexual violence against women will be a gradual process, educating young adults and securing healthy mindsets of future parents and leaders will lead to a more egalitarian education of the following generations to come.
Anasu, Laya. “Tyga Retained as Yardfest Headliner with Start Time Delayed.” The Harvard Crimson. The Harvard Crimson, 9 April 2013. Web. 3 June 2013.
Bolger, Dana. “Surviving Rape: What I Want Other College Students to Know About Title IX.” National Women’s Law Center. National Women’s Law Center, 21 June 2012. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.
Fordham University Campus Security. “Re: Security Alert 06-13.” Message to Fordham Students, Faculty, Staff, and Guests. 20 Apr. 2013. E-Mail.
Fordham University Division of Student Affairs. Campus Assault and Relationship Education (CARE). Fordham University. Fordham University, 2012. Web. 2 June 2013.
Hirsch, Kathleen. “Fraternities of Fear: Gang Rape, Male Bonding, and the Silencing of Women.” Ms. Magazine 1.2 (September 1990): 52-56. ProQuest. Web. 2 June 2013.
Katz, Jackson. The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc., 2006. Print.
McMahon, Sarah. “Rape Myth Beliefs and Bystander Attitudes Among Incoming College Students.” Journal of American College Health 59.1 (2010): 3-11. EBSCOhost. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.
National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center (NVAWPRC). College Sexual Assault Programs That Have Been Evaluated: A Review. Medical University of South Carolina. Medical University of South Carolina, 16 May 2002. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.
Tyga. “Rack City.” Careless World: Rise of the Last King. Universal Republic Records, 2011. CD.
United States Department of Justice. Office of Justice Programs. Sexual Assault on Campus: What Colleges and Universities Are Doing About It. National Institute of Justice, 2005. National Institute of Justice. National Institute of Justice, Dec. 2005. Web. 19 Apr. 2013.
Wetzel, Dan. “Steubenville High School Football Players Found Guilty of Raping 16-year-old Girl.” Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo!, 17 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.