"I need to buy you pepper spray."
As I was getting ready for my first night out of school year, this message popped up on my phone from my dad. In between the flurries of "What do I wear?" "Does this make my legs look big?" and "Dammit I smudged my eyeliner," this seemingly simple message forced me to face the disturbing truth hidden within campus culture.
More than one in five women in college are victims of sexual assault and misconduct during their time in university, according to a study released by the Washington Post in September.
Sexual assault is a national issue, but clearly it's a particularly urgent issue on college campuses. Every year, more and more campus administrations have implemented mandatory sexual assault awareness programs. Many universities have also joined President Obama's "It's On Us" campaign, a nation-wide promotion aimed at putting an end to sexual assault on college campuses.
But is it actually working?
If you reference the results of the Sexual Assault Climate Survey released by Indiana University in October, the answer would be an outstanding no. In November 2014, 7,132 IU students (both undergraduate and graduate) participated in the Sexual Assault Climate Survey, which asked students about their perceptions and experiences with sexual assault. The survey also questioned students about their opinions on the sexual assault resources on campus as well as university handlings of instances of sexual misconduct.
The most astonishing finding in the survey is that 29 percent of undergraduate women reported experiencing some type of nonconsensual sexual contact while at IU. That's right, 29 percent. The percentage at IU is actually higher than the national average of sexual assaults on campus.
So what can we do? How do we solve the problem of sexual assault on college campuses?
1. Know the Facts
The best way to start creating campus communities where sexual violence is not tolerated is by educating not only ourselves, but also the people around us. We can start by understanding the true definition of sexual assault. A common misconception is that sexual assault and rape are synonymous, but in reality, rape falls under the umbrella of sexual assault. Sexual assault is any type of sexual interaction or conduct that occurs without the consent of the recipient. This includes groping, forced kissing, or any other type of non-consensual touching, even if the victim is wearing clothing when the assault occurred.
2. Debunk the Myths
Since a young age, we were taught to be afraid of the stranger in the dark alley. Media and TV shows don't help this myth; think about all the times you've seen a scenario where a creepy man lurks in the bushes waiting to assault a woman. In all actuality, 82 percent of sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances. We are far more likely to be assaulted by someone we know than by a stranger. If a majority of perpetrators are people we know, why do we encourage women to constantly keep an eye out for strangers? Why do we tell women to "not walk alone at night" when the perpetrator isn't hiding in the bushes?
3. Fight Rape Culture
86 percent of the undergraduate women who took IU's Sexual Assault Climate Survey and reported experiencing sexual assault did not report the incident. Why? Because we live in a culture where it's not acceptable to discuss sexual assaults. When we are confronted with the story of a sexual assault, we ask, "What were you wearing?" and "How much did you drink?" All of this boils back to rape culture, which encourages sexual violence and allows it to become inevitable in society. We can fight rape culture by not allowing ourselves to blame the victim. We can fight rape culture by talking openly about sexual assault. We can fight rape culture by agreeing that this problem pertains to both women and men, for one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college.
Eliminating sexual assault on college campuses is not going to happen overnight; this struggle is going to exist for years and years to come. But we can start the process today by breaking the silence and bringing awareness to this nationwide problem. Today we can pledge not to rest until sexual assault vanishes from our college campuses and communities.
I pledge to put an end to sexual assault on college campuses not for myself, but for my friends, classmates, colleagues, and, most importantly, for my sister who will be in my shoes in less than two years.