Fighting societal norms: untangling rape culture’s grasp on victims

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You didn’t get “raped” by your test. You failed it.

Your sports team didn’t “rape” another team. They won.

It’s not the “rape lot.” It’s a parking lot on campus you feel uncomfortable walking through.

There’s a reason for that.

Normalizing rape and sexual violence perpetuates rape culture. It trivializes victims’ experiences and hinders them from reporting sexual assault.

The first sexual assault of the academic year was reported just five days into the semester, and most sexual assault reports in previous academic years were also made early in the fall semester.

Statistics from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service show one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college.

“The statistics will say, ‘x’ number [of sexual assaults]are going to happen, and it makes me sick,” President Barry Dunn said.

The National Criminal Justice Reference Service also reports more than 90 percent of campus sexual assaults go unreported.

Title IX  Equal Opportunity Compliance Coordinator Michelle Johnson said the best way to get help is to report the incident to Title IX or other university officials.

“We can’t help if we don’t know it’s happening,” Johnson said.

The student organization Feminist Equality Movement (FEM) stationed a bulletin board on Main Street of The Union asking what would be different in a world without sexual violence.

“I wouldn’t have to see my assaulter daily,” read one of the notes. Others wrote about the fear of walking alone at night, needing to carry weapons to feel safe and the fear they have for themselves or siblings.

“I don’t think we have a rape culture here, but I think one rape is too many,” Dunn said. 

Victim blaming is a part of rape culture that diminishes claims of victims and places the blame on the victim rather than the assaulter, according to Tracy Chapman, part-time counselor at the Wellness Center who also works at the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter.

“We don’t need to educate the victim on how to protect themselves and not get raped,” Chapman said. “We need to educate that consent is always needed, what is consent, when can it not be given … we have to educate about those things.”

Senior agricultural education major Sam Ellison reported a university employee to Title IX for verbally assaulting her last spring, but no charges were made against the alleged assaulter.

Ellison said she received backlash when she made her report, including victim blaming and people making assumptions about the assault, even though none of them were present. 

“I’ve had three cases of sexual violence and this is the first one I’ve reported, and I regret it,” Ellison said.

Although SDSU is taking steps to help eliminate the rape culture atmosphere and occurrence of sexual assaults, Ellison said she still thinks there is more Title IX and university officials can do.

“We need people to talk with us,” Johnson said. “If they feel we’re not doing enough, or the administration isn’t supporting them, we need individuals to come forward and tell us that … Now, If there are things going on, I recommend people report. If they feel there is a rape culture, that people report and give specific examples.”  

A video from the SDSU athletic department speaking out against sexual assault premiered at Saturday’s football game against Drake. The video features student athletes Mike Daum, Taryn Christion, Madi Guebert and Maggie Smither. Dunn said he hopes the well-known students will help change the attitude about sexual assault.

Ellison said she wishes there were more proactive campaigns to stop sexual assault, rather than just people saying it’s bad then not doing anything else.

Last year at Take Back the Night, a march around campus with sexual assault survivors and friends, Ellison invited all male athletes to attend a “Survivor Story Share.” No male athletes attended the event, Ellison said.

“It’s great to see them all in the videos, and it’s great to see that they support it, but I don’t see a whole lot of action,” Ellison said.

Sigma Phi Epsilon’s programming chair, junior nursing major Tucker Hammer, said SigEp is hoping to break the stigma and speak out against sexual assault and the rape culture environment that feeds it by holding Sexual Assault Awareness Week next week, Sept. 25 to 28.

“A huge problem is that sexual assault awareness month isn’t until April and we really need to get this message out a lot sooner than that,” Hammer said.

The group Sex Signals will have a presentation 7 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Volstorff Ballroom to discuss the harmful effects of sexual assault and the importance of bystander intervention.

Hammer said he hopes the events will start conversations about rape culture and bring awareness to the issues that surround that culture.

“We can’t be part of the problem, we have to be part of the solution,” Hammer said. “Everybody needs to be involved in the conversation that will hopefully, ultimately end the rape culture and make colleges a safer place for ourselves, the next generation [and]the generation after that.”

Dunn said the training, resources and “proactive response” to the first reported sexual assault show the university is promoting a safe environment. In this instance, they took immediate legal action against the assaulter and gave the victim access to recovery resources. Dunn also heard positive feedback from students about campus safety, which he said is his number one priority.

Title IX is currently investigating a sign hung at an off-campus residence during move-in weekend. The sign said “Your daughters are in good hands” with a drawing of a hand making a sexually-suggestive signal. A Facebook post relating the sign to rape culture was shared 228 times and generated 76 comments.

“From my perspective, from when I see things day in and day out, the administration is very supportive of Title IX and of having an atmosphere that promotes rape prevention,” Johnson said. 

Johnson said Title IX has taken steps to teach students about sexual assault on college campuses. The university filmed videos last year that included students, staff and faculty for the “It’s On Us” national campaign, and Johnson said bystander intervention is highly emphasized in education methods. The biggest initiative Title IX has is the “Think About It” online training introduced a few years ago, but made mandatory for all incoming students this year.

Last year, 6 percent of incoming undergraduate students completed the training. This year Johnson said 93 percent of incoming undergraduate students have completed it, and the training is still open for students to complete.

“Now, If there are things going on, I recommend people report,” Johnson said. “If they feel there is a rape culture, that people report and give specific examples.”

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