The Safer Campus

Rape on Campus

Rape on Campus

PHOTO COURTESY OF TUCKER SHERMAN

This is an imagined story that illustrates several realities of date rape on college campuses today.

The next day, she reported what happened to security: He was a sophomore at Anyplace College, and she was a freshman. They met at the student center. She was sipping coffee at a table when he approached her and asked if she would like to grab a beer. He knew a place that would serve them. He was good looking and seemed nice, so she agreed.

Many beers later, they were walking home when he said, “Hey this is my dorm. Want to come up and relax a few minutes before you head home?” After a hesitation, she agreed.

Upstairs in his suite, they discovered his roommate and a date making out on the sofa. “Let’s go into my bedroom so we won’t bother them,” he said, guiding her around the sofa into his room. He opened a couple of beers, and they watched television lying on the bed, cuddling a bit.

Eventually, she fell asleep, only to awake on her stomach with her jeans down around her ankles. Her seemingly nice date was raping her. She struggled, but he weighed twice as much as she did. When he placed his forearm on the back of her neck and pushed down forcefully, she couldn’t move. Fear and confusion kept her from calling out.

According to literally dozens of accounts from victims, this is non-stranger rape. Records indicate that non-stranger rape is one of the most common crimes committed on college and university campuses today.

It is a plague proving very difficult to stop.

The Prevalence of Campus Rape

The University of Michigan recently conducted a survey of sexual misconduct on campus. The results, reported in TIME magazine, said: “more than 20 percent of undergraduate women had been touched, kissed or penetrated without their consent…”

In October of last year, continues the TIME report, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) survey found that 17 percent of women undergraduates at MIT had experienced some form of sexual assault.

These two studies, as well as others, reflect results similar to a benchmark study conducted between 2005 and 2007. Called “The Campus Sexual Assault Study,” it was commissioned by the National Institute of Justice and prepared by RTI International, a research firm in Research Triangle Park, NC.

Nineteen percent of the undergraduate women participating in that study reported “experiencing completed or attempted sexual assault since entering college.”

Current studies continue to report that one in five undergraduate women have suffered sexual assaults.

A Washington Post article published on June 12 of this year reported the results of a Washington Post–Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted from January through March. The telephone poll randomly sampled 1,053 women and men undergraduates, aged 17 to 26, from more than 500 campuses across the country.

Once again, 20 percent of the women said they had been sexually assaulted.

Additional results of interest said that 25 percent of the women and 7 percent of the men suffered unwanted sexual incidents in college. Sexual incidents include assault as well as unwanted touching and other unwanted attentions that stopped short of criminal acts.

The Role of Alcohol in Sexual Assault

According to “The Campus Sexual Assault Study,” 11.1 percent of the women in the study were incapacitated and unable to provide consent. Most of these women — 84 percent — were incapacitated by alcohol, which they imbibed freely.

Perhaps surprisingly, only 0.6 percent of victims reported being given a drug without their knowledge. Most victims incapacitated themselves by drinking too much.

“A significant number of rapes are associated with drinking, but I would emphasize that you cannot say that someone deserves less protection because he or she had too much to drink,” says James Burke, a partner in the White Plains, NY law offices of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, LLP. “There is nothing that makes it all right to assault someone.

“My point is that the campus security and public safety departments, knowing that something may happen, must have plans to respond.”

An adequate response would include measures to care for the victim; medically, psychologically and legally. It would also include an investigation of the incident and the perpetrator.

“More broadly, the response should include reporting the incident and scanning the existing records to see if the student or off-campus perpetrator has been involved in previous incidents,” Burke says, underlining the importance of a reporting system.

Unfortunately, an adequate response is usually impossible because the vast majority of campus sexual assaults go unreported.

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, a book published in April of this year by author Jon Krakauer, notes studies suggesting that as many as 80 percent of campus sexual assaults go unreported.

Developing a Program to Prevent Sexual Violence

Prevention requires changing ingrained patterns of thought and behavior in potential victims and perpetrators, a task that can take many years or perhaps many exposures to anti-sexual violence lectures and literature.

While many schools have implemented orientation talks that provide information and awareness about campus sexual violence and rape, experts say one session is not nearly enough and won’t work in the absence of a comprehensive prevention program.

“Preventing Sexual Violence on College Campuses: Lessons from Research and Practice,” is a report prepared by the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. In regard to awareness lectures, the report observes that brief, one-session educational programs conducted with college students, typically aimed at increasing knowledge or awareness about rape or reducing belief in rape myths, comprise the bulk of the sexual violence prevention literature (See DeGue et al., 2014). However, across dozens of studies using various methods and outcome measures, none have demonstrated lasting effects on risk factors or behavior. Although these brief programs may increase awareness of the issue, it is unlikely that such programs are sufficient to change behavioral patterns that are developed and continually influenced and reinforced across the lifespan.

According to the CDC report, two programs have managed to reduce incidents of sexual violence. Both were developed for middle and high school students but might be adapted for college students.

“Safe Dates” consists of 10 sessions that educate young students about attitudes, social norms and healthy relationship skills. There is also a student play about dating violence and a poster contest.

Researchers have tracked students that have been through the program and found that four years later, they were “significantly less likely to be victims or perpetrators of sexual violence involving a dating partner (Foshee et al., 2004).

The second program, “Shifting Boundaries,” is a 6- to 10-week building-wide program designed to prevent dating violence inside a middle school. The program uses temporary building-based restraining orders, poster campaigns to increase awareness and maps that identify unsafe areas of the school where monitoring is increased. Researchers found that this program reduced sexual violence.

While conceding these programs aim at younger students, “Preventing Sexual Violence on College Campuses” suggests that each might be adapted to college and university campus settings as a part of an overall prevention program.

The report also suggests that the process of adapting both programs might help develop additional prevention strategies such as:

  • Policies and interventions designed to reduce risk
  • Strengthening existing policies and services related to reporting and responding to sexual violence
  • Harsher penalties for perpetrators
  • Changing social norms that facilitate attacks

Another part of a prevention program that has proven effective teaches those who might be bystanders what an incident of sexual violence looks like and urges them to step in and put a stop to what might become a crime that will ruin the victim’s life and the perpetrator’s life.

Remember the story told earlier? Remember the roommate and his girlfriend were making out on the couch when the victim and perpetrator arrived?

What if the woman who suffered the rape remembered training that urged her to cry out if she found herself in danger? What if she had cried out? Suppose the couple on the couch been through bystander training. They might have stepped up.

That’s how important comprehensive and repetitive anti-violence programs are.

Sexual violence and date rape have become epidemic on college and university campuses. It is all too often the unavoidable, logical conclusion to a date night spent drinking too much.

Comprehensive prevention programs loudly promoted to the campus community can begin to change the patterns of thinking that enable rape on campus. Such programs won’t fix the problem quickly or perhaps ever, but they can certainly help.

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue of College Planning & Management.

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