How to Solve the Problem of Campus Rape

It's not just a "women's" problem.

Posted Oct 24, 2017

By Kathryn R. Klement, Ph.D., Guest Contributor

Emily Doe didn’t expect to wake up in a hospital after drinking at a college party, being told that she’d been sexually assaulted (Baker, 2016).

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Source: Thinkstock

Instead of dealing with a hangover, she dealt with the fallout of her assault and the publicity that accompanied the criminal trial of her assailant, former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner. In the wake of Turner’s conviction and sentence to a mere six months in jail, many people have claimed that his victim should have protected herself by not drinking so much, or by not drinking at all. Indeed, this is a point that is invariably made whenever media attention focuses on a case of sexual violence on college campuses.

Columnist Emily Yoffe (2013) once suggested that women should stop getting drunk to avoid being sexually assaulted. Even Stanford University had an online misstep with a page called “Female Bodies and Alcohol,” which featured a section about how alcohol affects sexual aggression

Telling women to stop drinking is not going to reduce the incidence of campus sexual assault. The focus on drinking ignores many problems, and these two key facts.

Fact #1: Men often push women to drink to take advantage of them.

The pressure for women to drink as much as men, even beyond their tolerance, is deeply embedded in college campus life. Almost one in five assaults involving drugs and alcohol feature involuntary consumption (Lawyer, Resnick, Bakanic, Burkett, & Kilpatrick, 2010). Thus, perpetrators may be using alcohol as a way to take advantage of their victims.

Fact #2: Alcohol is used primarily in stranger and casual acquaintance rape, but many women are raped by friends and romantic partners.

In assaults where alcohol is involved, the victim is more likely to be a casual acquaintance of the assailant, rather than a steady relationship partner (Davis, Danube, Stappenbeck, Norris, & George, 2015). However, approximately 75 percent of sexual assault victims know their attackers, and 25 percent of victims are assaulted by current or former relationship partners (RANIN, 2016). Telling women to stop drinking as a way to protect themselves from assault doesn’t speak to the risk they face from relationship partners and friends who take advantage of their intoxication.

So if we shouldn’t tell women to just stop drinking, what should we do instead?

Solution #1: Increase awareness of sexual assault early.

Implementing sexual-assault education programming during middle and high school can set a good foundation for counteracting college-life culture. Children and adolescents can learn about consent, healthy relationships, and how to spot signs of dangerous and unhealthy relationship dynamics. For example, Safe Dates is a 10-week course that also helps students to overcome gender stereotypes and learn how to communicate with partners. If such life-skills training were common for our youth, they may be better equipped to deal with problematic relationships later in life.

Solution #2: Get men to see sexual assault as a "men's" issue

Jackson Katz (2006), author of "The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help," discusses several ways in which men can get involved in combating sexual and gender violence. Many strategies involve men speaking out when they hear or say something that implies the victim is to blame or that sexual violence is a natural consequence of a woman’s behavior. In a culture where men are socialized to embrace a perspective of masculinity that glorifies aggression and dominance, men speaking out against the abuse of women is critical for change and can be more persuasive to other men.

These solutions will not fix the problem of sexual violence overnight. Indeed, they are the first steps to changing cultural norms and convincing us that rape is not acceptable under any circumstances.

However, by changing norms and attitudes, we can help to create a culture where the accepted consequence for a woman getting drunk at a party is a hangover, not a sexual assault.

Kathryn Klement, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of psychology at Bemidji State University. She is an alumni of the Northern Illinois University Department of Psychology, and received her Ph.D. in 2017 under the mentorship of Brad Sagarin. She teaches classes in human sexuality, social/personality psychology, and research methods. Her research focuses on negative attitudes about women’s sexuality and how they can fuel problematic perceptions of sexual violence.

References

Baker, K. J. M.  (2016, June 3).  Here is the powerful letter the Stanford victim read aloud to her attacker.  Buzzfeed News.  Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.lyA4VR5VV#.pcjbwqmww

Davis, K. C., Danube, C. L., Stappenbeck, C. A., Norris, J., & George, W. H.  (2015).  Background predictors and event-specific characteristics of sexual aggression incidents: The roles of alcohol and other factors.  Violence Against Women, 21, 997-1017.  doi: 10.1177/1077801215589379

Katz, J.  (2006).  The macho paradox: Why some men hurt women and how all men can help.  Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Lawyer, S., Resnick, H., Bakanic, V., Burkett, T., & Kilpatrick, D.  (2010).  Forcible, drug-facilitated, and incapacitated rape and sexual assault among undergraduate women.  Journal of American College Health, 58, 453-460.  doi: 10.1080/07448480903540515

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).  (2016).  Victims of sexual violence: Statistics.  Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

Yoffe, E.  (2013, October 15).  College women: Stop getting drunk.  Slate.  Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/10/sexual_assault_and_drinking_teach_women_the_connection.html