It's On Us: A Look at Sexual Assault on College Campuses in America
This year at The Oscars, Lady Gaga and Joe Biden teamed up to bring attention to the epidemic of sexual assault in our country. Though the two are an unlikely pairing, the performance was part of a much larger movement founded by President Obama and Vice President Biden called It’s On Us.
The goal of the movement is to shine a spotlight on the rampant issue of sexual assault on college campuses across the country. It’s on Us is about enacting change, encouraging people to speak up and share their stories, to remove the social stigmas on sexual assault, and work together to prevent these senseless acts of violence.
The movement has been loud and pervasive. Hundreds of college campuses have hosted events, and many sports teams, celebrities, and politicians have announced their support. But still, there is much work to be done.
The statistics of sexual assault on college campuses are staggering.
Estimates show that between 20%-25% of women will be the victim of a sexual assault while they are in college. That’s one in four women in your freshman class who will be assaulted by the time they reach graduation. And 9/10 victims know their offender. These assaults typically go unreported. 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do no report it. The problem of reporting does no exist solely on college campuses. Sexual assault is arguably the most underreported crime in general (over 60% of attacks never get reported).
There has been much controversy in recent years regarding how sexual assaults are handled on campuses. It is difficult to prosecute these cases, mainly because the it ends up being her word against his, and this is often sufficient reasonable doubt. But the issue here is that even if an attack is not brought to court, does the school administration have a responsibility to provide punishment for the suspect and protection for the victim? What is the university allowed to do? And what should they be doing for their students? The Hunting Ground was a controversial film released in 2015, that recounted the mishandling of reported assault at various campuses including Florida State University, Harvard Law School and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A female student at Columbia reported an assault on her campus, and after her report was dismissed, and no disciplinary action was taken, she decided to carry a Twin XL mattress with her everywhere she went while on campus, until she graduated or her attacker was expelled.
Even after reporting, there is the issue of prosecuting these cases, which proves to be especially difficult. For context, according to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest Network), out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only 334 will be reported to the police, 63 reports will lead to arrest, only 13 cases will be referred to prosecutors. Out of the original 1,000, only 7 will eventually lead to a felony conviction, and 6 rapists will be incarcerated.
Many campuses have taken steps to teach students that legal definitions and boundaries of consent. It seems simple but it’s not. Consent is not someone ‘not saying no,’ or ‘acting like she wants it,’ agreeing to hooking up, but not explicitly agreeing to sex. Consent can never be given by someone too young, or drunk. Mandatory affirmative action courses for incoming students is an important step in preparing students, and making campuses safer.
The It’s on Us campaign addresses these issues by targeting the college campus culture surrounding sexual assault in vital ways, impressing on people that we start taking important steps such as:
- People need to more readily accept that consent cannot be given while one is drunk, and sex without consent IS sexual assault, which IS rape.
- People need to feel more comfortable intervening, and being a responsible bystander. (We saw this in the Brock Turner case.)
- Lastly, we need to believe, accept, and support survivors. When someone tells you that they have been assaulted, your first statement should be “I believe you” not “Are you sure?”
It seems simple, but these are not steps so easily taken. The typical hook up culture on college campuses needs to shift in order to accommodate these changes. It’s the only way to make our campuses safer and that’s a steep mountain to climb. However, with movements like It’s On Us, celebrity involvement and discussions, discussions between students and friends, it is entirely possible to improve the culture surrounding sexual assault.