The average college campus is ripe with students partying, drinking and exercising their newfound independence. The same factors that create an exciting social environment also make campuses risky places for college women to become victims of rape.
According to the National College Women Sexual Victimization Study, “between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experience completed or attempted rape.”
Temple student Vanessa Fuller said that rape is something that she thinks about when she walks around campus or anywhere. Fuller mentioned women have to be concerned with their safety and she knows many women that carry pepper spray with them for protection. When she goes out late at night, she makes sure she’s not alone.
“I’m lucky that I have a close group of friends and good guy friends that I can trust to look out for me and walk me home,” Fuller said.
Photo Credit: Chikira Bennett
However, before students get used to campus, make friends, and know what areas to avoid, they are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence.
“The red zone is a period of time from when a freshman female comes to college through the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s the time we generally see more sexual assaults and rapes on college campuses than we do at other times,” said Beverly Frantz, Criminal Justice and Sexuality Project Director at the Institute on Disabilities.
Many rapes that occur on college campuses are date rape or acquaintance rape. Between 75 and 90 percent of acquaintance rapes take place when students are drinking or using other substances.
Temple University’s Sexual Assault Counseling and Education Program (SACE) defines acquaintance rape as “being forced to have sexual intercourse against your will by someone you know- whether you are passed out, too drunk to refuse, too scared to argue, or for some other reason do not give consent.”
When Temple student Saleem Sabree was informed of how frequently college women are raped, his thoughts turned to binge driking at parties.
“If we know women get drunk quicker than men, and you’ve been drinking all night and she’s been drinking just as much, she might not be completely conscious of what she’s doing. So, do the right thing and send her home with her friends or let her sleep on the couch, do something,” Sabree said.
Frantz said that many women don’t report rapes because they feel like it is their fault for being too naïve or trusting.
“If women are raped by someone they know, they may wonder ‘What’s wrong with me that I didn’t know this person would do this?’ and you question your own ability to judge,” Frantz said. “But the reality is the people that do this are people that try to gain your trust. You’re less likely to let someone come into your life and go with them if they seem degenerate or are someone you don’t know.”
Frantz also points out that the news often reports rapes committed by strangers, which undermines the fact that most rapists are people that victims know on some level.
Temple student Christopher Santiago sees some social media relationships as potentially dangerous for women.
“Everyone is on these social networks interacting with people they don’t really know. It could be a friend of a friend and they may seem cool but when you meet these people in real life, it could be a dangerous situation,” Santiago said.
In terms of ways that Temple could be safer for women and men, Santiago suggested that Temple require students to take mandatory self-defense classes that incorporate scenarios of local attacks and robberies that have occurred nearby. Fuller thought that men and women should meet together to talk about violence against women and ensure that female students have someone to walk with at night.
In the larger discussion of rape prevention, many organizations and activists stress that men and women need to be taught more about consent and effective communication. The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) also suggests that people can combat sexual assault by challenging sexist attitudes and educating themselves about gender inequality and sexual violence.
How students and colleges respond to rape
Unfortunately when women do speak out about being raped, often their peers, universities, and police do not take their claims seriously. However, Title IX requires colleges to investigate all rape accusations even if local authorities don’t.
Students and victims of rape have made headlines recently for their activism and attempts to hold administrators responsible.
In October, former Amherst student Angie Epifano published an op-ed (http://amherststudent.amherst….) about Amherst’s mishandling of her rape. After she reported the rape, the university told her she could meet with the accused and faculty members to try to determine if she was raped. However, the university discouraged her from taking this measure because if would be her word against the other student’s and there was no evidence. When she went public with her story, her peers supported her in urging Amherst to improve their sexual assault policies. Epifano also encouraged other women to break their silence and share their stories of on-campus assaults.
Often universities take rape accusations to campus trials that keep rape allegations under wraps and separate from public crime reports. SAFER, Students Active for Ending Rape, and V-Day an organization founded by Eve Ensler, writer of The Vagina Monologues have teamed up to work on the Campus Accountability Project. The initiative calls for students to submit their universities’ sexual assault policies for revision. SAFER looks for problems with the policies and offers suggestions for how the university can make alterations to better protect students.
SAFER’s homepage (http://www.safercampus.org/home) features examples of ways that students are working with their universities to improve sexual assault policies and demand more transparency in how frequently rapes occur.
This past Valentine’s Day, V-day organized the event One Billion Rising, where people from around the world rallied and participated in dance flash mobs to raise awareness that one in three women globally are expected to raped or beaten in their lifetime. This year, Women’s Way hosted One Billion Rising at Love Park.
Temple’s Campus Police which is connected to SACE has a 24-hour hotline available to students at 215-204-7276 as well as Women Organized Against Rape (WOAR) 215-985-3333.
For additional resources and information about violence against women, visit V-Day at http://www.vday.org/our-work