Many fondly remember the time they left home for college. That sweet taste of freedom brewing. Sure, the mistakes were a necessary part of learning and the bad decision to party all night was just part of the vibrant experience. Kudos to the ones who passed on late night social endeavors for strong coffee and dedicated hard work. For some, it took the entirety of college and hefty debt to then realize what it was supposed to be about- education, personal progress, their future. But media culture tells a very different story of what it’s about because the flirty girl in a short skirt, binge drinking debauchery, and the coming of age misconceptions are the true selling points of entertainment.
Media culture itself isn't all to blame for this campus vision; many parents and other influential adults, and most youth, buy into the idea that college is about that kind of experience. But does that portrayal genuinely set college-bound kids up for success? Unfortunately, this typical college story becomes one of many contributing factors to sexual assault on campuses nationwide. What if we flipped the script, creating a more intentional story of learning and boundaries along with their newly granted freedom? What if hard-core studying, responsible drinking and consensual sex were the new vision?
In 2001, sexual assault was finally granted a dedicated month to raising awareness. And during this time of teal ribbon wearing or catchy hashtags on social media, it’s also about taking a proactive stance to everyone's right for safety. Sounds like an obvious solution, but awareness months exist because a problem still exists. However, there is good news amidst the complexity of sexual assault. Anyone has the power to make a difference and it starts with you. Here’s an example, with universities across the US dealing with sexual assault issues, campaigns and other awareness programs have recently brought this problem to the front line. Awareness of the issue has grown exponentially, and many are fighting back. Even though sexual assault remains a problem, with time and momentum awareness has the potential of turning into the fight that changed it all!
So, where do you start, you ask? You can take a look at something worth fighting for which is currently on the chopping block, Title IX.
Title IX, which is more widely known to be a law protecting equal rights in school athletics, requires every school receiving federal aid to take concrete steps to deal with campus sexual assault. Sounds like a great idea, right? But there is a long divided line between whether schools should be allowed to grant punitive action towards a perpetrator of sexual assault versus handing the problem over to law enforcement. Although there are a handful of other arguments that play into Title IX’s hotly debated status, this one plays on those who have never been a victim or know little about what it’s like to be sexually assaulted. Confidentiality and choice are two crucial components to this argument.
It’s not that Title IX discourages victims from reporting, nor is it a replacement for reporting to law enforcement, but it allows the victim to come forward and obtain the support necessary to continue their education. Forcing a victim to report in order to receive support for the violation perpetrated against them places them in a box of certain restraints that may end in not reporting altogether. And, even worse, it could lead to yet another victim of sexual assault going without support, services or help of any kind. There are a multitude of reasons why a victim doesn’t want to report: fear of skepticism, re-victimization, fear of retaliation, going through the ordeal to have it not end in an arrest, perception that law enforcement doesn't have a clear understanding of trauma, some states not recognizing men as the victim or women as the perpetrator, and/or the victim being part of the LGBTQ community. Until these reasons get addressed, forcing a victim to report isn't going to be the answer.
Law enforcement and college administration need to find the compromise. The answer isn’t simple and both parties have a history of guilt in handling these cases incorrectly. If you are in college, have a child in college, ever went to college, live near a college, care about college students or in general care about the well-being of others, educate yourself on the intricacies and debates that lie in Title IX.
Think about what is best for a victim of sexual assault, and specifically what would create the best possible environment for a college student victimized by sexual assault to thrive on campus.
You can start there. And what’s next, you ask? The simple task of getting media culture on-board with the new vision of campus life. Okay, so it’s not that simple. But by individuals taking initiative to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month, educate themselves on the incidence of sexual violence, speak-up about the trauma of sexual violence and openly voice that sexual assault should not and will not be tolerated or seen as a normal part of culture, then change will happen. The more individuals, the greater the change, so get on board with putting an end to sexual assault!
Contributed by Christina Vaughn
Violence prevention advocate and volunteer at Tahoe SAFE Alliance