Let’s be blunt: one rape occurs on a college campus in America every 21 hours; one in four college women will be the victim of sexual assault during their academic careers, and college-aged women are four times more likely than any other age group to face sexual assault, according to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
Even though this has been an issue for decades, it seems that in the past few months cases of college sexual assault have become prevalent across the country. Almost every week, it seems as if there is a new story of a tragic incident in which a woman has been taken advantage of.
The shocking story from the University of Virginia that was featured in Rolling Stone Magazine brought the greatest national attention to this issue. Despite the dispute behind that story’s legitimacy, it provoked a fierce national dialogue, which has been delayed for too long.
Why is this epidemic of sexual assault cases occurring?
As counterintuitive as it might seem, the recent flow of news stories related to sexual assault is actually a positive step forward. These stories are the results of victims feeling empowered to speak out and to become a part of the movement that will no longer tolerate systematic gender violence. One of the bravest examples of this is Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz, who started the “Carry that Weight” campaign.
Sulkowicz, a victim of sexual assault on her campus, reported her case to the administration at Columbia, according to her website “Carry That Weight.” After she was put through a drawn-out, demeaning and mishandled review of the case, her rapist was found “not responsible.” Emma decided she could not bear the injustice carried out by the administration and began a courageous display to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses.
She committed to carrying around her mattress every day and everywhere she went until her rapist was removed from campus. Her actions inspired thousands across the nation, and students at many colleges have conducted similar demonstrations to raise awareness about this issue on their campuses.
Unfortunately, we cannot assume that these events only transpire on other campuses, but not our own. Sexual assault is a significant issue at this university. Many people here have survived sexual assault, and their lives have been put on hold because of the experience’s debilitating impacts.
With the recent release of an email from a fraternity member at this university discussing the type of woman he hoped to see at a fraternity party, and ending with the statement, “f**k consent,” we must force ourselves to come to the realization that rape culture is strongly present on our campus.
In Judaism there is an expression, “Lo ta’amod al dam rei-echa,” which means, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.” So as this epidemic continues to spread across the U.S., and as we see it on our own campus, let’s not stand idly by. Let us not allow members of our community to make a statement such as “f*ck consent” and be OK with that.
Or even worse, let us not be appalled by such a statement and then do nothing to change it. Let us take responsibility for this issue and work together to create an environment where everyone feels sexually safe and protected on this campus. There are two things that every individual can do to make that happen:
- Practice positive bystander intervention: Don’t ever be afraid to speak up in a situation where you believe there is any possibility for sexual assault to occur, and always intervene in a situation where consent has not been or cannot be given. Furthermore, speak out against the microaggressions that create a culture where rape occurs. Stand up to anyone who insists on slut-shaming, victim-blaming and objectifying women.
- Understand university resources for sexual assault survivors: It is important to be there for those who are survivors of sexual assault — to simply listen to them and refrain from any and all judgement. Be patient with how they deal with this experience in their own time, but encourage them to make use of the resources available to survivors on our campus. Become familiar with this university’s resources for survivors at these two websites: http://www.umd.edu/Sexual_Misconduct/ and http://www.health.umd.edu/care.
This is a frightening issue across the country, and it is important that each person takes it as their own personal responsibility to create a change. Lo ta’amod al dam rei-echa.