The University of Connecticut didn't wait long to notify students after two women were sexually assaulted over the weekend. State police are now investigating the incident, and a safety alert was sent to students on behalf of the Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Barbara O'Connor on Friday night.
The email reads:
The Connecticut State Police are investigating a report of a sexual assault of two females by two males that they met at a party last night. It has been reported that at some point during the party the two females were in the wooded area with the two males. With the case still under investigation it is unknown how the women ended up in the wooded area with the offenders. While in the woods, it has been reported that one of the males had non-consensual sexual intercourse with one of the females, and the second male attempted to engage in non-consensual sexual contact with one of the females.
Yes, the university's initial message was problematic to say the least. It doesn't matter how these victims "ended up in the wooded area with the offenders," because one's physical location does not incite sexual assault. Rapists decide to rape, victims don't decide to be raped. And there's no such thing as "non-consensual sexual intercourse" because intercourse is something that willingly happens between two people. Rape isn't sex; it's violence.
But the victim-blaming email isn't even the worst part.
The women were assaulted on what's known as the "rape trail" in Storrs, Conn. You'd think something like that would have a negative connotation on campus, but as it turns out the mere reference of the "rape trail" is cause for cheer and celebration.
A few days prior to the recently reported assault, music duo Timeflies performed at UConn and vocalist Cal Shapiro dedicated four minutes of the show to rapping a freestyle tailored toward UConn students, filled with references specific to their school (this is something he apparently makes a habit of doing).
Concert-goers were clearly hyped the artist took the time to learn about all things UConn, and the crowd gave an especially loud cheer of recognition and approval after the "rape trail" got a shout out in the first 11 seconds of Shapiro's original verse.
If you watch the first 11 seconds of the performance uploaded on YouTube, you'll hear thousands of college students yell in praise and admiration after hearing the words: "rape trail."
One student even tweeted:
Timeflies uconn freestyle was insane tho, when he mentioned the rape trail and carriage he had me dying
— Nick Graz (@nickgraz9588) October 8, 2013
The Daily Campus' coverage of the concert omits any mention of Timeflies' "rape trail" reference.
Rape culture gets perpetuated on college campuses in more ways than just police reports, campus-wide emails from public safety, and lacking media representation. Rape culture also happens when mention of this kind of violence is applauded -- literally, not just metaphorically -- by students. Glorifying the "rape trail" as a source of campus pride and recognition sends a dangerous message; it teaches students to "stay off the rape trail" instead of "don't assault people."
Despite the actual assaults that have taken place there, students seemingly embrace the notorious "rape trail" as a notable part of campus culture. These references and behaviors don't just inherently encourage rape culture; students are actively allowing problematic language and ideologies around rape culture on campus by using "rape trail" rhetoric and cheering it on.
Takina Pollock, a UConn senior and social justice advocate, explained the problematic nature of rape culture at her university in an email.
"The 'rape trail' was unfortunately iconic at UConn. It resembles the circumstances women are taught to avoid in all these risk reduction strategies. But UConn reclaimed the trail in recent years, dubbing it 'Celeron Path' and discouraging language usage like 'rape trail,'" Pollock said.
"We work so hard to eradicate language like that, and [Timeflies] snubbed it in a sentence. We're going backwards... of course he preyed on that because clearly UConn is an eden for rape culture."