Back to School, Back to Rape

The precursors to rape in our colleges -- which affects 1 in 4 women -- can be found in our middle schools, where dating violence is fast becoming a crisis, with 1 in 3 teens who date experiencing some form of abuse.
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It's back to school time. As if parents and students don't have enough to worry about, there's an alarming study by the U.S. Department of Justice. The finding: an estimated 1 in 4 college girls will be the victim of sexual assault before they graduate. Also in the news, a lawsuit filed as a result of the suicide of a freshman woman who was a victim of a gang rape. Allegedly, although she reported the rape, the college failed to help her.

Young women aged 16-24 are more vulnerable to violence than any other age group. Rape of our young women is a staggering problem which receives little national attention. Statistics have always been hard to measure. Why? We live in a culture of victim blaming: "What was she wearing?", "Was she intoxicated?", "Why did she go to the fraternity party?". As a result, many young women feel ashamed and don't report the crime.

When Chris Brown beat up Rihanna, almost half of teens surveyed thought Rihanna was to blame. They wondered things like: "What did Rihanna do to upset the mild mannered Chris Brown?" Who do we imagine these teens will blame if they themselves become a victim one day?

I recently met up with two of my college sorority sisters. We are now mothers with daughters in middle school. We cringed as we recalled the numerous times we had naively placed ourselves in danger back in college. Our walks alone back to the sorority house after midnight on those cold, dark nights. The countless fraternity parties where we were among the last to leave - or in a room with a group of men. We are only grateful we made it through unscathed. Our takeaway: we wish we knew then, what we know now. Unless we arm our young women with knowledge, we are unwittingly sending them into a college game of Russian Roulette: how lucky will she be with timing and circumstances?

If we really want to nip this crisis in the bud, we need to start early. The precursors to rape in our colleges can be found in our middle school. Teen dating violence is fast becoming a crisis, with 1 in 3 teens who date experiencing some form of dating abuse. Almost half of teens have been victimized by controlling behaviors.

Violence against young women has become increasingly visible and acceptable in our pop culture. Our kids are fed a steady diet of music, video games, movies and television shows rife with violence against young women. A recent study by Parents Television Council found that while incidents of violence on prime-time broadcast television increased 2 percent from 2004 to 2009, there was a 400 percent increase in the depiction of teen girls as victims in that same time period!

Shocking, yes. Now as parents, we must act! Here's what we can do to help:

1. Have a conversation with your sons and daughters.

At least once a year, I speak to my tween daughter with an age appropriate message about teen dating violence. I reinforce the message each time there is related news in our popular culture, like when Chris Brown beat up Rihanna. Each time she rolls her eyes and gives me a: "Not this again, Mom." But, she is listening and taking in. When my son reaches middle school, we'll also be chatting on teen dating violence. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach not only our daughters, but also our sons. The website Love is Not Abuse is an excellent resource for starting a conversation.

2. Get teen dating violence in your school's curriculum.

If you are a middle school/junior high school parent, set up a meeting with your school principal and ask that teen dating violence be put in the curriculum. Only 25% of schools teach about dating violence; but in schools that do, the vast majority of kids say they can identify the early signs of abuse.

My organization is a national partner, along with organizations like Liz Claiborne and Seventeen Magazine, in MADE (Moms and Dads for Education to Stop Teen Dating Abuse). You can check out our website for resources such as sample letters to your school, or suggestions for curriculum.

3. Write a letter to the administration at your child's college.

We need to make colleges and universities our partners in protecting our daughters. Write and ask the administration at your children's school what they are doing to keep our daughters safe.

4. Forward this to a friend who might benefit.

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