Separating truth from myth: A Q&A with RASA president Sydney Green

Posted on Oct 27 2016 - 8:01am by Sydney Green

What is sexual assault on college campuses?

When we think of a sexual assault scenario, we imagine an attacker jumping out of the bushes and violently assaulting someone walking alone at night; however, this is a rare situation. Perpetrators are not always creepy villains. They are usually people that the survivors know – someone they sit next to in class, someone they just met at a party or even their significant other. Furthermore, sexual assault is not limited to rape. Sexual assault includes any unwanted sexual touching, kissing or penetration.

How many students at our university have been sexually assaulted?

While it is nearly impossible to generate accurate statistics specific to our campus, national statistics say that one in five women and one  in 20 men experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault during their time in college. Based on these statistics and anonymous reports submitted by the Violence Prevention Office in years past, we can assume that so far this semester dozens of assaults have been reported to the university, and countless more have not been reported.

If a survivor does not actively resist a perpetrator’s advances, how can that person say he or she was sexually assaulted?

College-aged survivors of sexual assault almost always know their perpetrator. Survivors are not likely to use self-defense tactics on their acquaintances, especially if the assault is non-violent. Because they fear response from the perpetrator, whether verbal or physical, many survivors seek a passive way out of the situation. To ensure their safety, many survivors would rather succumb to the perpetrator’s advances than actively resist them.

Why does telling women to watch their drinks at parties not help prevent sexual assault?

First of all, women and men experience sexual assault, so if we choose to offer this advice, we should offer it to all genders. Beyond that, this is not an effective prevention method because it does not address the root cause. Sexual assault does not exist because college students get drunk a little too frequently. Sexual assault exists because perpetrators feel the need to exert power and dominance over another individual using sex. Instead of teaching students how to not get raped, we should teach rapists not to rape.

Why do many survivors choose not to report to campus resources?

There are a number of reasons why less than 20 percent of college survivors report that they were sexually assaulted. Some survivors fear retaliation from the perpetrator, from the party they report to or from organizations that they are involved in. Many survivors do not understand that what they experienced was sexual assault. They know that they did not want to engage in sexual activity. They know that they feel used or violated, but they do not feel confident enough to say that were assaulted. Ultimately, most survivors fear that they will not be believed. To encourage reporting, we need to create a supportive environment in which survivors know they will be believed.

We need to understand without a doubt that non-consensual sex is sexual assault. Period.