In an editorial in The American Prospect, Jaclyn Friedman decries colleges' "ineffective pageantry on rape prevention." Instead of teaching female students how to avoid getting raped, she says we should be teaching men how to avoid being rapists.
At about this time every year, adult anxiety about sexual assault reaches a tipping point and gives way to an avalanche of advice to young women from campuses, commentators, and parents alike: Don't hook up! Don't dress provocatively! Watch your drink! Actually, don't drink at all! Always stay with a friend! Don't stay out too late! Don't walk home alone! Etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseam.
And every year, it fails to work. A 2007 Department of Justice-funded trend analysis of rape studies over time revealed that rates of rape haven't declined in the past 15 years — in fact, they may be increasing.
Even though I know that, for my own safety, I need to be aware of the potential threat of assault, it frustrates me that managing the threat is so often treated as women's responsibility. Though I found The Gift of Fear's tips on avoiding assault and stalking useful, I didn't like the implication that it was women's job to keep themselves safe from the inevitable threat of men. Many take the pragmatic view that rape is endemic and women should just accept the curtailment in their lives that's necessary for self-defense. But the older I get, the more jealous I am of men's freedom to walk around by themselves at night, and I think I can protect myself while also acknowledging that I shouldn't have to.
The fall that I entered graduate school, a number of women were groped on the street late at night. The gropings grew in frequency until finally a woman was attacked by a stranger who broke into her apartment. The police eventually arrested someone in conjunction with one of the incidents; all the other cases are still open. Instead of hearing about more arrests, we heard that most of the women groped have been wearing skirts, and that the assaults would likely die down in the wintertime when girls covered up and the nights dipped below freezing.
I found this link with the weather rather telling. Too often, we're asked to accept sexual assault as though it's an act of God, something that just happens, like rain. It's our job to carry an umbrella to avoid getting wet. But rape and other forms of assault are acts of men (and sometimes women), and we should be trying harder to stop them at the source. Friedman offers the following suggestions:
Schools would stop telling girls to mind their liquor so they don't "get themselves" raped and start teaching young men that alcohol is never an excuse to "get away" with anything. They would offer bystander training, so that all students on campus know what it looks like when someone's sexual boundaries are being violated and what to do if they see that happening. They would teach students that the only real consent is the kind that's freely and enthusiastically given, removing the "she didn't exactly say no" excuse that too many rapists hide behind. And their campus policies would support prevention, recovery, and justice, not dismissiveness, victim-blaming, and denial.
Ending sexual assault still seems like a pie-in-the-sky idea, even to me. I'll admit that the first time I saw "Stop Rape" graffitied in an alleyway in my college town, I let out a bitter laugh. But maybe I'd feel less like that if the schools I went to had been better at "taking responsibility for rape prevention off of the potential victims and placing it where it belongs — with the potential perpetrators and with the adults and institutions whose job it is to keep young people safe." And maybe if colleges — and everyone responsible for teaching young people — followed Friedman's suggestions, then the women who come after me won't have to live in fear.
Combating The Campus Rape Crisis [The American Prospect]