The Impact of Sexual Violence on College Students

Kiran's essay was selected as one of five winners in a Denim Day NYC 2013 Op-ed Writing Contest: Telling the Truth About Sexual Violence. The essay contest was co-sponsored by all five NYC borough presidents with the goal of celebrating the voices of college students and engaging them to think critically about the issue of sexual assault. The contest was open to all NYC college students enrolled, either full-time or part-time, in a two- or four-year college or university in one of the five boroughs. One op-ed winner from each of borough was selected, and each winner was awarded a $500 prize at the April 24th Denim Day NYC press conference at City Hall.

Steubenville. It's a nondescript name of a nondescript town. A few months ago you'd be hard-pressed to find someone outside of Ohio that knew where it was. Then something happened last summer in Steubenville, something that rocketed it to the forefront of the national consciousness. It wasn't a terrorist attack, or another school shooting, or even a heartwarming sports story like the Bengals or Browns finally winning the Super Bowl. But it did have to do with football.

It was rape.

Two male high school students raped a female student after she passed out at a party. In a modern, sickening twist, they texted their friends and posted pictures and videos of their acts to the Internet. A New York Times article brought the rape to the national spotlight. Talk show hosts rushed to have their say. Was the community protecting the boys because they were football stars? Did the fact that it was only digital penetration lessen the crime? Was the girl lying? What was the role of social media?

Everyone cared. Everyone cared so much. An Ohio congressman took the time to issue a statement, writing "As the father of two daughters and grandfather of four granddaughters, had something like what is being alleged here have happened to one of my loved ones, I would be demanding justice to the fullest extent of the law." The rape even has its own Wikipedia page.

Two months ago a woman was raped near my apartment building, on the Brooklyn College campus between the dorms and the school.

And that was pretty much the end of the story as far as news outlets were concerned. There were the obligatory articles in the Daily News and the New York Post, and a three-minute segment on the local news channel. But there was no Times exposé. It didn't become a national issue. Somehow Brooklyn wasn't worth the attention. In fact, less than three weeks later Fox News commentator Bob Beckel asked, "When was the last time you heard about a rape on campus?"

But it wasn't the end of the story for Brooklyn College students.

Girls were scared to walk home alone. A friend of mine started to buy pepper spray for anyone who asked. Rape breeds a culture of fear and strains the relationship between the sexes. No one should feel unsafe in a learning environment, or anywhere else. My sister should not have to fear walking back to her car alone at night. As a male, it's not fun being looked at as a potential rapist because of what one criminal did. I can only imagine it's even worse for a female to feel like a potential victim.

It's worth noting that sexual violence happens to men too. According to the latest information from the Center for Disease Control, one in 71 men reported experiencing rape in his lifetime. The ratio is about 13 times higher for women. When you factor in sexual violence other than rape, both sexes suffer approximately the same amount. I'm not trying to argue that male rape is a larger issue than female rape. My point is that any number larger than 0 percent for either gender is too high and deserves attention.

Unlike Steubenville, there is no ambiguity towards the rape that happened at the Brooklyn College campus. Any and all forms of sexual violence are clearly wrong. Sexual violence on a college campus has a large impact, but mostly in the lives of the students who have to come to be educated in an environment of fear. Every rape should generate the publicity of Steubenville until the Denim Day slogan is etched into the mind of every potential rapist: there is no excuse and never an invitation to rape.