Last week at Miami University in Ohio, a flyer detailing how to get away with rape circulated throughout one of its residence halls, prompting action from university officials.
(Note: trigger warning throughout this article for mentions of rape and sexual assault.)
According to a recently published article, a resident assistant in McBride Hall, a co-ed freshman residence hall, discovered a flyer entitled “Top Ten Ways to Get Away with Rape.” Campus officials responded to the incident, but some students are critical of the perceived lack of action.
A female student in WAVE (Women Against Violence and Sexual Assault) at MU denounced the decision to not inform all students of the incident via email communication. Pictures of the flyer were promulgated throughout the Internet, which helped news of the incident to travel more widely throughout the campus. Withholding this information from the student body at large may have been avoided if the sexual assault prevention coordinator position had not remained vacant for more than a year.
Unfortunately this case, an example of rape culture, is not an isolated incident. College campuses around the country have been cropping up in articles, under fire when officials do not respond properly to incidents of sexual harassment, assault, or rape.
In 2010, Yale University suspended pledging activities for DKE (Delta Kappa Epsilon) after pledges chanted “No means yes, yes means anal!” repeatedly throughout the campus, near the all-female residence hall. It wasn’t until seven months later in May of 2011 that the fraternity chapter was banned for five years from Yale’s campus.
Next, in December of 2011, the University of Vermont’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter released a survey with the question “If I could rape someone, who would it be?” Eventually, the chapter was banned from UVM as well as from Nationals for five years.
While this incident was handled in a more appropriate manner than the other aforementioned incidents, the language involved still perpetuates rape culture. WPTZ reported “This [survey] doesn’t look like something that was distributed by the chapter or the chapter leadership. Right now it looks like an individual acting on their own accord.”
My alma mater, American University, is also guilty of incidents that support rape culture. A student who was vice president of the Inter-Fraternity Council posted the following status on Facebook in regards to the upcoming Take Back the Night Event on American’s campus:
The IFC decided to have the student step down from his position. The Eagle Online reported the incident, and the president of the IFC stated “[The student] is a man of integrity and is sincerely sorry that his words and actions have caused both offense and uproar in our school community.” The student in question publicly apologized while he and some of his fraternity brothers attend Take Back the Night.
Finally, this week former student Angie Epifano from University of Massachusetts Amherst recounted her horrendous foray against Amherst’s administration to report her rapist. Epifano’s account, detailed here, depicts a university unwilling to aid victims of sexual assault and rape and simultaneously strives to cover up the incident with gems such as “He’s about to graduate, there’s not much we can do.” The sexual assault counselor even went so far as asking her “Are you SURE it was rape? It might have just been a bad hookup… You should forgive and forget.”
I wish I could tell you that these were the only incidents that occurred on college campuses, but sadly, there are many other incidents that either go unreported or do not reach mainstream social media or news stations.
The culture surrounding these incidents reinforces students to think that it is okay to discount or shoo away incidents involving rape and sexual harassment. American University recently had four incidents of “forcible fondling,” where, reportedly, a man was sneaking up behind women and grabbing their butts or chests.
While the incidents were reported and the campus was promptly notified, I was aghast at the flippant manner in which students made fun of the assaults. Forcible fondling is a legal definition for this crime, but the phrasing turned the serious reports into a campus-wide joke. I cannot tell you how many times I walked through the quad and heard different people claim to “be the fondler” or criticize women for reporting something “as minor” as groping. Even though it is a legal definition, American University’s Department of Public Safety could have chosen a more serious term for their bulletins.
What’s most damning about these incidents is every administration seems to share the collective attribute of minimizing crimes so that the public, the media, or the potential new student population does not discover the dark truths of sexual assaults on campus. Yale seemingly waited seven months before absolutely banning DKE (which Jezebel insinuates was a result of the Title IX lawsuit filed against the Ivy League school). Amherst repeatedly offered terrible resources for Epifano after she was raped and attempted to prevent her from being discharged from the psychiatric ward. Miami University refused to send an email to its students because “It [the flyer] didn’t pose an immediate threat.”
This attitude of finding excuses for criminal’s actions because he or she is a “Nice Guy (TM),” or for discounting a person’s feeling because “it’s an Ivy League school, it couldn’t possibly be unwelcoming” constantly reinforces rape culture. Take a look at the comment sections on any of these reported incidents, and I guarantee some form of the above two statements is present in every article. (Warning: I do not suggest you read the comments’ sections often. Side effects include losing faith in humanity.)
Time and again the running theme of these incidents is a chosen quote by a friend or fellow member of an organization who vouches for the rapist or the person who has uttered an offensive remark, effectively minimizing or deleting entirely the personal accountability for his or her actions. When you erase the responsibility of the perpetrator, this ushers in a discourse laden with victim-blaming.
I have currently been hired as a volunteer online operator for RAINN and worked as a resident assistant for a year. I want to work with sex offenders and victims of rape and sexual assault, and have experience helping people already through multiple jobs and through friends who have suffered through these terrible experiences.
After telling a friend of mine of my sexual assault, he tried, but epically failed, to comfort me. He was sympathetic, but he whispered, “Well, you weren’t raped, right? At least you weren’t raped.”
This detrimental statement effectively demonstrates that the consistent factor deterring survivors from reporting is public opinion. How will my friends see me? Will the administration believe me? Will people label me as asking for it? Does my incident count? My assault wasn’t as bad as another person’s, so will people think it matters?
Constant inundation of rape flyers, chants discounting consent, and encouraging silence of victims adds to the perpetuation of this rape culture.
There are terrible incidents happening at these colleges, and what we need to do, not just on campuses, but nation and worldwide, is to keep shattering the silence and stigma associated with rape and sexual assault. If you do not feel that your incident is “worth getting worked up about,” or if someone tries to minimize the impact an incident has upon your own being, remember these words a friend of mine uttered to me immediately after I told her of my experience:
“You can do anything with this information you want, and you should remember that. If you decide that reporting him is what you need to do, then you should do it. And don’t feel badly about it because he is the one who made you uncomfortable in your own skin, and no one should ever do that. Once you feel uncomfortable, there is a violation; even if nothing physically has happened, you have a right to confront him about that.”
Written by Nicole Del Casale