By Angelina Cantelli, STAR Intern and LSU Student
It’s no secret that sexual assault is an issue at college campuses across the United States. However, I walk a college campus every day, and I rarely hear these issues being addressed. While we have taken great strides in addressing and preventing campus sexual assault in recent years, the conversation surrounding this epidemic seems to be spearheaded by those in power: universities, politicians, and the media. To continue the fight against campus sexual violence, we need to amplify the voices of students, especially those who are survivors.
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incense National Network (RAINN), 11.2% of all undergraduate and graduate students report an experience of rape or sexual assault during their time in college. Female students are especially at risk. According to RAAIN, 23.1% of undergraduate females report an experience of some type of sexual violence while at college.
Keeping these statistics in mind, it would be foolish of me to think that sexual violence doesn’t happen on my campus. I know it does: I have been catcalled, I’ve heard inappropriate jokes and comments made about women and their bodies, I have friends who are survivors, and I can see how rape culture is prevalent all throughout my school. So why isn’t there a stronger presence of students advocating against sexual violence?
My university is a large, well-established institution that works with many groups and organizations that work to prevent sexual violence and offer comprehensive support services for survivors. However, the only way to truly decrease the prevalence of sexual violence on campus is to change the culture of the university, and that starts with the students.
We’ve seen groundbreaking cases of campus sexual assault take precedence in the media recently, such as the “Emily Doe” case, which led to a conviction of fellow student Brock Turner for sexually assaulting her at a Stanford University party. This case sparked a much-needed conversation about campus sexual assault, including why reporting sexual assault can be so difficult, as well as the unfair punishments for perpetrators. Now, “Emily Doe” has made the brave choice of revealing her identity as Chanel Miller and releasing a memoir about her experiences.
Miller is an inspiration to many, but we cannot rely solely on her and others involved in highly-publicized sexual assault cases to be the voice for college students everywhere. Every campus is different, and every campus needs students leading the conversation relative to the needs, patterns, and culture of their university.
A study published by the American Journal of Community Psychology in 2017 aimed to examine what factors deter survivors of campus sexual assault from reporting. The study surveyed 840 women from a midwestern university, 284 of which had experienced some form of sexual assault on campus. Of those who experienced campus sexual assault, only 16 survivors, or 5.6%, had disclosed to any of the three available campus support resources.
In this same study, whenever a survivor answered that that they had not reported to a campus support resource, they were asked to give a reason for why they chose not to. The reasons given included:
- Issues with accessibility; for example, feeling as if they did not have time to report or not having knowledge of how to do so
- Fear of acceptability and consequences after reporting
- Feeling as if the campus support resource was not appropriate; for example, choosing not to report because they felt as if their information would not remain confidential
- Alternative coping; for example, feeling as if they found enough support through speaking with their friends and loved ones
These barriers and others like them exist on campuses nationwide and discourage survivors from feeling comfortable about sharing their experiences.
While many universities claim that they are working to create environments that are free from sexual violence, it is impossible to achieve this without first addressing the many social and institutional barriers students face. Therefore, it is vital for students to also speak up against sexual assault on campus. The university may be able to address issues such as accessibility or appropriateness, but students need to take the lead on driving change in our interactions with others. This starts with making survivors feel accepted and heard. We can show support to our peers by believing their stories, elevating their voices, and demanding change on their behalf.
The fight to end campus sexual assault is nowhere near over. We will likely continue discussing the same issues for years to come; however, we can change who is leading the conversation. We’ve seen the global conversation surrounding sexual assault and harassment being led by survivors in the recent peak of the #MeToo movement: Shouldn’t it be the same for college campuses? Decisions made about preventing sexual assault and ending rape culture on campus should include students, especially those who are survivors. University administrations should value and amplify the voices of their students, work to remedy their concerns, and take every report of sexual assault seriously. Students should do all they can to shift their campus’s culture to be one of acceptance, advocacy, and belief of survivors.
Holland, Kathryn J., and Lilia M. Cortina. “‘It Happens to Girls All the Time’: Examining Sexual Assault Survivors’ Reasons for Not Using Campus Supports.” American Journal of Community Psychology, vol. 59, no. 1-2, 2017, pp. 50–64., doi:10.1002/ajcp.12126.
Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/ajcp.12126
“Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” RAINN, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 2019, Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence