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The high rate of sexual assault on college campuses makes rape culture seem normal. It is not.
Most colleges in this country are required to provide students with information about sexual assault, from consent speeches to pamphlets on safe sex practices and online trainings that outline how to avoid dangerous situations. But there’s a problem with these attempts at sexual assault prevention: They’re not working.
One in five women is sexually assaulted in college. It is a concern that college students face constantly, whether they’re navigating a typical weekend social scene or going on a first date. Young people, especially women and LGBTQ+ individuals, are at risk in our community. And rather than being assured that the people who most often commit these acts are taught not to, and are held accountable when they do, the highly-targeted groups are told to use the buddy system and not drink too much.
Workplaces and college campuses alike have implemented methods like those mentioned above to fight against assault. But why, after so many years of these practices with little to no impact, has the system not been updated? Any other aspect of an institution that was failing this badly would be heavily funded and completely revamped—any aspect that an institution cared about, at least. The message being sent is loud and clear: The people with power in the education system do not think this is a serious problem.
Title IX, the law that protects students from sexual assault and requires universities to investigate acussations, was recently modified to increase protections for the accused, relieve schools of prior legal obligations and make it more difficult for victims to feel comfortable reporting. The changes only increase the need for the university to take matters into their own hands for the sake of students’ safety.
UC Davis does provide commendable support and resources to survivors through the Center for Advocacy Resources and Education (CARE); however, the fight against sexual assault should not solely be focused on helping victims after the fact, but on preventing rape and assault from happening altogether. The university has perhaps succeeded in creating a space for victims to heal, but that isn’t a solution to the issue plaguing universities across the country. If anything, having these resources established gives administrators the chance to increasingly put energy into preventative, rather than reactive, work on and around campus.
There is no getting around the fact that this is a hard problem to solve. But one mandatory speech in four years about why consent matters isn’t going to cut it.
A good place to start is Greek life. All members of that community at UC Davis must attend at least one presentation on sexual assault and consent anually. But there’s an important difference between the members who attend these events: fraternity men are three times more likely to commit rape than other groups on college campuses. The power inbalance, the mentality around partying and hookups and the entire social fabric of fraternities prop up and contribute to rape culture. There needs to be a focus on combating egregious acts committed by members of these and similar organizations, both by the university and by members of fraternities themselves.
Over the past year, multiple fraternities at UC Davis have been reprimanded for hazing members. Practicing hazing has long been outlawed on campus, but so has sexual assault. Why is it that a single account of hazing can get an organization kicked off campus, but several reports of assault isn’t something the university has the power to reprimand one for? In most cases, it takes a group of sororities refusing to affiliate with a fraternity for the men to take appropriate action, proving what the stakes need to be for them to care.
The unfortunate truth is that members of the groups that often perpetrate these atrocious acts don’t tend to side with the victim. As students, especially anyone who is involved in a larger social community, we must also do better at holding each other accountable for damaging behavior. In fraternities and similar groups, individuals need to take the time to learn why it is that sexual assault is so rampant among them and teach themselves and others how to prevent it (i.e. stop assaulting people).
We hear about it so often that we become desensitized to discussing the traumatic experience of assault. It is indeed so normalized that it is expected. The reason we see Band-Aid solutions that put the responsibility of prevention on potential victims rather than on perpetrators is that sexual assault is so ingrained in society that it’s considered inevitable. And when individuals make decisions that don’t align with prescribed methods of avoiding assault, it opens the door to victim-blaming—survivors are told they shouldn’t have been drinking or wearing particular clothing instead of assailants being told they shouldn’t assault others. The Editorial Board would like to make one thing very clear: Sexual assault is not normal. The belief that it is is the result of a rape culture that is upheld by the university’s unwillingness to take action against the accused.
The bottom line is that UC Davis has an immense responsibility to counteract sexual assault on and around campus, and they are failing to rise to the occasion. Students have been knowingly sent into a perilous campus climate for years, and it’s time for campus officials to reject the notion that they can’t keep us safe from assault. As a first step, let’s stop letting students get away with it.
We are living during a time when student interaction has decreased substantially. We recommend the university take this time to think long and hard about how they plan to implement truly preventative measures when students eventually begin to mingle as campus reopens.
Written by: The Editorial Board