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Tue May 7, 2013
Why we should talk about 'rape culture' on college campuses
When parents send their daughters off to college, they do so with their fingers tightly crossed that they will remain safe and sound.
As young women living on their own, a myriad of situations present themselves that could put women in dangerous situations, like walking home late at night and college parties.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) support parents' worries.
One in five women report having been raped at some point in their life - the figure is one in 71 for men.
So, what can be done to stop this?
Only 37% of women who were raped between the ages of 18-24 report it, according to the Rape Prevention Program run by the CDC, a number which Jess Klein said is much lower than the actual number of women who have been sexually assaulted in college. Male assault is underreported as well.
Klein is with the Women's Resource Center at Eastern Michigan University. She addressed several aspects of sexual assault and identified preventative measures that can be taken by everyone.
Sexual Assault and Self Blame
Sexual assault is an umbrella term that can range from unwanted gestures to penetration.
Klein said that a common thing that stops women in college from reporting their experience with sexual assault is self blame, or victim blaming.
"There's a common fear among victims of sexual assault that it's your fault or that you won't be believed," she said.
In order to reduce and prevent sexual assault, we need to address where this victim-blaming practice comes from.
According to Klein, a main source for this practice is a simple lack of discussion about sexual assault in middle schools and high schools.
"When parents hear the words 'sexual assault' they forget the 'u-a-l' at the end and just think, 'Oh, this is about sex and my kids aren't doing that, therefore we aren't going to talk about it.' It's no wonder people blame themselves, they aren't being educated about it."
Klein does a lot of classroom work with college students. In the workshops, one of the first things she asks is: "Gentlemen in the room, what do you do on a daily basis to keep yourself from being sexually assaulted?"
They don't have anything to say, but when she asks the same question of the women in the room, hands fly into the air. Women tend to respond with answers like, 'I carry pepper spray' and 'I look in the back seat of my car.'
The reason Klein does these workshops is to educate young people on a societal level to stop sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses.
"We're all responsible for creating a culture where rape is perpetrated and sustained. When we say 'rape culture,' we are talking about the arbitrary rules put on women in our society. We tell women that if they go out at night alone and are assaulted, it's their fault. We say that if they wear certain kinds of clothing and are assaulted, it's their fault. So before women even leave the house, they check their own behavior."
Carrying pepper spray and wearing less revealing clothing may seem like smart solutions to some, but Klein said that these preventative measures are just the result of a sustained rape culture.
A better solution, she said, would be changing the language we use to talk about rape. Instead of women worrying about what will happen if they wear certain clothing, the situation can be turned around.
"If somebody steals my cell phone, it's my fault because I left it there, but it's not theirs to take. It's the same with this - it's my body, it's my choice about what I wear, and no one else's. Women need to start saying, 'Maybe you shouldn't touch me,' or 'Why can't I walk home from the library at night?'"
Thoughts for parents
So yes, sexual assault is underreported, especially on college campuses. But it's important to acknowledge that that is acknowledged by many colleges in the United States.
Many have specific programming to educate students about sexual violence, and teach students how to be effective bystanders.
Klein suggests talking to your daughter about self-respect and how to stand up to peer pressure within friend groups from a young age.
"We have to tell parents to trust their children and know that they can think for themselves."
-- Lucy Perkins, Michigan Radio Newsroom
To listen to the full audio, click the link above.
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