I can’t decide what’s more unsettling: the percentage of women sexually assaulted on American college campuses each year or the percentage of women who are sexually assaulted and don’t say a word.
Given the sensitivity of the subject, it is difficult to get accurate estimates of the incidence of sexual assault. The American Medical Association estimates that less than half of assaults are reported to authorities.
Although it came as a great relief to me when President Barack Obama and his administration announced last week they would be implementing a task force to combat sexual violence on campuses across the country, something still bothers me.
The last article I wrote during the fall semester dealt with a man who had been making inappropriate advances on women on campus.
The undetermined number of women affected by this man who attempted to take out on a date, asked for their number, or made them feel uncomfortable about the skirts they wore was appalling. Even fewer women went straight to the campus police to deal with the situation.
It’s difficult to fathom why a woman wouldn’t be motivated to tell someone if they’ve been sexually violated. If more of the women had spoken up sooner, something could have been done about the campus creeper.
But, when I gave it a second thought, it actually makes a lot of sense that women keep quiet about these incidents. Consider where we live: a religious majority that favors conservatism and brushing things under the rug. Consider our culture where we tend to blame the victim for being attacked — a culture where sexual violence occurs but is quickly forgotten.
My stomach turned when I realized most of us have accepted this as a normal part of life. We justify such actions by saying, “Men are pigs; they can’t help themselves. Women get themselves into bad situations. People can’t put the blame on a man’s perverted behavior.”
Therefore, I am in 100 percent support of the actions the Obama administration is taking to combat sexual violence on college campuses. Sexual harassment in college should not be tolerated. Yes, it is up to the women to speak up about incidents. Although, isn’t that pressure to speak up the same kind of pressure we put on women to avoid being targeted?
Rape culture is a real thing. Society too often blames the woman for whatever reason she gets violated and hurt. In contrast, there is no such thing as “women’s rights” anymore. Take away the gender prejudice and the only thing left is “human rights.”
It is a human right to feel safe on a college campus. It is a human right to speak up about any form of unwanted attention and unwanted advances. It is a human right to deny giving someone your number. It is a human right to treat every person with respect, regardless of sex.
While other nations’ governments pretend sexual violence against women isn’t an issue, we have a leader who is tackling it head on. And that means everything to me as a woman and as a college student.
Men, your actions are contagious. Women, your words are contagious. The president can only do so much to keep you safe on a college campus. But when you leave the campus, don’t forget the power you have to speak up about your rights as a human being.
Obama put it best when he said: “…Sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals. And that’s why we’re here today — because we have the power to do something about it as a government, as a nation. We have the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who have survived it, and bring perpetrators to justice.”