Sexual Assault and Its Culture

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily represent the newspaper as a whole.

Anna Rajagopal, Staff Writer

Trigger warning for sexual assault. 

Sexual harassment and assault are evils that if not stopped dead in their tracks, often have the tendency to be deadly. Often, when women are sexually harassed and assaulted, they either end up dead from the rape, or dead from rejecting a man. Sexual harassment and assault are more often than not directed by men towards women (and that is not to mention the statistically higher incidents of LGBTQ victimization and victimization of Women of Color). 

In this particular article, they are directed by one college student to another. 

College women aged 18 to 24 are three times more likely to be sexually assaulted than all other women. Furthermore, women in college are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as robbed. These incidents of elevated risk usually occur during specific times: Over fifty percent of sexual assaults at college happen in the months of August, September, October or November, and students have a higher risk of assault during the first few months of the first and second semesters of college (source). 

However, these statistics mean nothing to female readers if they do not know if they have been harassed or assaulted. Sexual harassment, assault, and other definitions that encompass inappropriate sexual behaviors include or fall under others There are many grey areas. Generally speaking, though, harassment is verbal and assault is physical (source). 

Does a guy ever say something either vaguely or explicitly sexual that just doesn’t feel right to you, but you don’t want to call him out on it or accuse him of a particular label? 

That’s probably because you have been sexually harassed. Sexual harassment can happen if a guy makes any sort of sexual remark directed towards you or other girls in your presence, flirts with you unrequitedly, or makes comments about women that make you feel uncomfortable. 

Maybe this guy is your friend, a neighbor, or your friend’s boyfriend. Oftentimes, we are sexually harassed by men we know or associate with on a regular basis. 

In such a situation, it is important to remember that you have done nothing wrong; men have the advantage of a power dynamic that is systemically inherited on the basis of gender. In other words, as men, they have power which is given to them by the way in which our society is structured. This power enables them to maintain oppressive tendencies towards women without having second thoughts or oftentimes without suffering punishment by way of law. 

If a guy has ever done such a thing to you: you are the victim. You may not feel like a victim, or you may have mixed feelings about it, but he has just done something illegal and immoral: he has used his position in the gender hierarchy to victimize you on a sexual basis. This is misogyny. 

Sexual assault occurs when a guy knowingly touches you without your consent. This can be a brush on your arm, touching your leg, grabbing your body, holding your hand — it is any act interpreted by you to be sexual that you did not explicitly consent to. It does not matter if he is friendly or sweet when doing it, or if he seems not to have ill will or malice towards you — what he is doing is still wrong. It will always be wrong. Oftentimes, rape falls under the category of sexual assault. 

If a man slips the condom off without your knowing, it’s rape.

If a man pressures you into sex by begging, guilt tripping, or asking after you’ve said no — even if you then, haltingly, say yes — it’s rape.

If you initially consented, but then decide not to have sex, and the man keeps going after you have expressed that, it’s rape.

Men, when they do such things, believe that they have control over the woman’s body. They do not respect our bodily autonomy or individual personhood enough to distinguish that our bodies are not theirs. We are not extensions of them. We are our own people. 

I am still learning this. Perhaps a more apt description would be that I am still unlearning the legacy of the men who put their hands on my sisters who came before me. It is difficult to imagine myself as a person sometimes; when men exercise what they believe is their right to a woman’s body, it becomes a vexation to understand where limits exist. But limits do exist. They always have. 

College campuses are hotspots for such verbiage and touching. I know freshman girls who have come forward to me and said that they have experienced sexual harassment and assault while at this college. Austin College tries to prevent this from happening with the sexual misconduct course that every student must take prior to campus arrival, or with the amphitheater event during orientation week that simulates rape, or with Project Floor meetings in every dorm building. But none of this works, and none of it is enough. 

Before school even started, incoming freshmen were told that we were required to take a course on sexual misconduct. This course depicted vivid, real-life rape descriptions, simulations of violations of consent, and questions about the images and videos shown. There was no opt-out option for victims. The course was intensely triggering for some; I know this because other freshman girls messaged me over social media and told me that while taking the course, they had a panic attack or cried. The mental health and well-being of survivors needs to be taken into account when the college requires course materials. Many rape survivors deal with diagnosed PTSD, just like American war veterans, after the incident that can be triggered by taking such a course, just as loud noises trigger PTSD attacks in former soldiers. Education and reliving trauma are not the same thing. This is not enough. 

During the first week of school, all the freshmen were required to attend a seminar in which older students modeled rape scenes at parties and the immediate aftermath. During the seminar, a staff member would pause the simulation throughout and ask the audience to weigh in on whether or not rape had actually occurred. Although most men in the audience shouted “no” when the simulation clearly showed rape, the staff member never corrected them, and left the situation up to opinion. Imagine being one of the girls sitting in the audience and seeing that almost all of the boys in your class think raping you is okay, and no one will tell them differently. This is not enough. 

Dean Hall had a Project Floor (a meeting of all Dean Hall residents) to simulate being roofied and then rape. The staff set up the program as a game, with skittles to simulate “roofies”. This entailed passing around skittles in a fake party scenario, and laughing when someone found out they got “roofied”. It essentially was a game of “who got roofied first??”. When the college sets up serious topics as a joke or  game, the students will not take it seriously. In fact, being drugged and rape quickly becomes normalized. For example, it was overheard that male students chanted “rape, rape, rape”, only to be applauded by their RA. It was even overheard that male students at that event told each other that they would cover for one another if they ever roofied another girl. This is not enough. 

To stop rape from happening, we must educate our men on what it means to lay their hands on a woman’s body. We must educate our women on what it means to be violated and understand that victimization leaves a heavy mark. We must draw lines that cannot be crossed. We must avoid vague definitions and take responsibility. 

Of course, women can perpetrate the same evils towards men; although on college campuses, it is far more likely that a woman will be a victim. When women are the victims, often, no one stands up for us.

There is much the college administration can do, but what can we, as students, do, in everyday life? To change the conversation, we women must stand up for each other, and men must stand up to other men. It does not take a village to say “hey, that wasn’t cool” or “she clearly doesn’t want to be touched”. When in doubt, support the woman you think is being victimized. A few words can go a long way. Furthermore, when we change the conversation, we change ourselves and our own relationships. We become young men and women of respect and good standing. 

One of Austin College’s core values is the positivity of the intimacy of a small community and the impact of such on the lives of students. To maintain a functioning community, we must stand up for what we think is right. Not saying anything at all is complicity. 

We need to ingrain in our minds that it is forbidden to say something or do something sexual to another person without having their direct permission beforehand and during.