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News+Opinion » Feminism, Y'all

The recent sexual assault allegation highlights the need for change

Changing a Culture

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Here's an incredibly familiar story: a group of college athletes gang-rapes a college student. She reports the crime, and what happens in the aftermath is that she drops out of college because of despair or fear. The athletes might face some small wrist-slapping, but they continue to play and receive acclaim from their university. This happens on college campuses nationwide.

I was saddened to learn from a Nov. 18 Post and Courier article that the College of Charleston may be one of these campuses. But I wasn't surprised by the news.

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My lack of surprise has nothing to do with CofC itself. We're a campus with many faculty and staff making sustained, concerted efforts to prevent sexual assault and to help those who are victims. Furthermore, The Post and Courier story didn't tell us all the "facts" of the matter. Due to privacy regulations, we're only getting a partial perspective.

What kept me from being surprised is that I'm a women's and gender studies faculty member at the college who regularly teaches courses on gender and violence. Because I teach these courses — and have taught them on other campuses — I'm someone with whom students often share information that they feel they can't share elsewhere. I know the statistics about rape on college campuses — statistics that are very, very high — and I also know the stories.

Students come into my office and shut the door. Then they talk to me about what happened. I've had students at CofC and elsewhere tell me about getting a call from a guy friend who comes to their room and then holds them down, saying, "Come on! It'll be fun!" Every semester I hear stories of women who cried throughout a sexual encounter. They cried, and yet somehow the person whose penis was in them thought that this was okay. I also regularly hear about women who passed out and woke up in the middle of a sexual act, sometimes with other guys watching.

And regularly on college campuses nationwide, the women who report these events are given the same message: You should have been more careful. Why were you with that guy? Why were you drinking? Why were you out so late? The message they're given is that this was their fault. If only they'd done the right thing, nothing would have happened.

Here's the message that's clearly not being given, or not being given effectively: If you are having sex with another person who hasn't said yes, or who is crying, or, for God's sake, who has passed out — if you're having sex with that person, then you are raping them. It's not a good time. It's a criminal offense. It isn't the fault of the person you're assaulting that you're assaulting them. It's your fault. And it's not acceptable.

This message isn't being given, because many guys think that it's perfectly fine to get sexual with an unconscious person. And college campuses endorse their perspective by not holding them accountable for that behavior.

The College of Charleston is actually ahead of other campuses in many ways. Our sexual misconduct policy has an appropriate definition of what sexual consent is, and it doesn't discriminate based on gender. In addition, we report more sexual assaults than many other campuses. We're not trying to hide the fact that it happens here.

So now we need to go further. We need to repeal the Jessica Horton Act, a 2007 South Carolina law that says that if a sexual assault happens on campus, the campus police are the ones who must lead the investigation. Even if you have the world's best campus police force, they're not automatically the ones who should be in charge.

We also need to get People Against Rape up and running at full capacity. In a community where people are raped every day, we need a fully-staffed organization dedicated to helping them.

And finally, we need to create a campus and community climate in which rape and sexual assault are viewed with disgust. A person's not successful for getting a classmate drunk enough that they can fuck them. The person who thinks that's a good time should be viewed with horror. Everyone reading this agrees that gang rape is a terrible thing. We all agree that if a person is comatose, that doesn't mean she "wants it." How can we make that a reality in our culture?

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