By now many news organizations, including The Setonian, have investigated and discussed the shocking statistic revealed by the Association of American Universities that one in five women will be sexually assaulted during their undergraduate college career.
Celebrities like Lady Gaga, who drew necessary attention to the issue of sexual assault with a breathtaking tribute to survivors at the Oscars, and lawmakers like Vice President Joe Biden, who has publicly advocated for change, have brought the topic to the forefront both culturally and politically. The increased awareness around sexual assault is powerful, but there is still so much that the average person just does not understand about sexual assault on college campuses.
For one, the attack. These statistics may stir images of dark, damp basements where culprits lurk
with mystery pills to sedate their victims. This is the case for some people. For others, it’s a friend. It’s a friend’s friend, it’s a friend’s boyfriend or a crush. Often, survivors have to weigh preserving social stability with pursuing the justice that they deserve, “justice” that involves obstacles and scrutiny.
There’s the crippling silence, being stifled. Sexual assault continues to be one of the most underreported crimes. While current statistics are saying one in five women are sexually assaulted on college campuses, why does our own Clery Act at Seton Hall reveal that in the most recent report for 2014 there were only three incidents on a campus with 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students? An anonymous Campus Climate survey in 2015 revealed almost 20 percent of respondents to be victims of unwanted sexual misconduct. This is such a hard topic to talk about, but silence is exactly what lets perpetrators get away with these horrible acts. We have to do more to inspire people to come forward with their stories.
The denial. Myths that exist in a widely enforced rape culture contribute to unnecessary confusion around the definition of sexual assault. Emerging education movements are helpful, but there are so many lies that still exist. College partying culture is synonymous with rape culture, and the party doesn’t stop after an assault. People wonder why victims wait to come forward, but within the collegiate bubble of frat parties, excessive drinking and “who hooked up with who?” the mental burden of unwanted sexual advances becomes confusing and even painful. When so many people glorify the “party scene,” it adds to these false notions about sexual encounters (she was asking for it, she chose
to attend and knew what kind of party it was) that just aren’t true. When college life becomes associated with a traumatic experience, the survivor must endure.
Then there’s the disruption. A statistic can be so limiting. One in five, then what? Sexual assault happens in college but the effects do not end there. These women are forced to move forward. Thrust into demanding academics and the pressure to prepare for a career, when is someone supposed to find the time to get help? Over 80 percent of Seton Hall students participated in some sort of internship program in addition to coursework last year. It’s hard to command a conference room or confidently offer ideas when you have been forced to internalize secrecy.
These are just a few aspects of sexual assault that remain absent from society’s current perception of rape on college campuses. Simplifying sexual assault to a matter of statistics just isn’t enough. These don’t explain what happened and why. These numbers don’t have feelings, they can’t possibly begin to convey the mental and physical burden that follows an unwanted sexual advance. Rape happens when someone knows they can get away with it, and with victims shrouded in silence, too many people are getting away with it.
The voices of survivors need to be heard, and in order to do this society needs to see past myths and create a space where people can come forward. If the criminal justice system is failing our sexual assault survivors, if culture is stifling their voices, if media is adding to the circulation of rape myths, change must start on a personal level with awareness.
Mary Marshall is a senior Journalism major from Darien, Illinois. She can be reached at mkmarshall74@ gmail.com.