The Rape Culture on College Campuses Must End

The White House should be applauded for putting a spotlight on campus rapes.

On Jan. 22, the White House released “A Renewed Call to Action” on the issues of rape and sexual assault, and President Obama signed a memorandum establishing a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault.

As the report noted, campus sexual assault is a particular problem.

Here’s one jarring statistic from the report: “1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted while she’s in college.”

The report notes that “the dynamics of college life appear to fuel the problem, as many victims are abused while they’re drunk, under the influence of drugs, passed out or otherwise incapacitated. Most college victims are assaulted by someone they know.”

Many college men appear to feel no compunction about rape: 35 percent of college men admitted in previous studies that they would rape someone if they knew they could get away with it. In newer studies, 7 percent of college men said they had raped someone, and 63 percent of those men said they had committed an average of six rapes apiece.

At Yale, the University of North Carolina, Dartmouth College, the University of California at Berkeley and other colleges across the nation, students have been filing complaints about how these institutions mishandled their reports that they had been raped and/or sexually harassed.

In his memorandum, Obama acknowledged that many colleges and universities are not abiding by federal laws requiring them to have programs aimed at preventing rapes on campus and to provide students with information about these programs. Colleges and universities are also required to establish procedures for the reporting and investigation of rapes and for preventing their recurrence. And they must offer rape victims information on how to access support services.

“Compliance with these federal laws is uneven and, in too many cases, inadequate,” Obama wrote.

Almost 22 million women and girls and 1.6 million men and boys in the United States have been raped sometime in their lifetimes.

This is an epidemic, and that’s why the renewed initiative on the part of the Obama White House is badly needed. It includes multipronged efforts not only on campuses but in the military and among “vulnerable” populations such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people, runaway youth, Native Americans, young undocumented people, the homeless and the incarcerated.

We need to dispel the myths that perpetuate this rape epidemic.

If a woman gets drunk, that doesn’t mean she can be raped.

If a woman is dressed in a short skirt, tight jeans or a low-cut top, it is not OK to rape her and, no, she was not was asking for it.

Education, as well as stepped up enforcement of laws against sexual assault, is sorely needed.

We need to get this message out, loud and clear: Real men don’t rape.
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Starita Smith, Ph.D., has been an award-winning journalist at the Gary Post-Tribune, the Columbus Dispatch and the Austin American-Statesman. She blogs at www.colorfulcommentary.org. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org. Copyright Starita Smith.

Photo: "Woman being stalked by a criminal," via Shutterstock.