Warning: This column contains discussions of sexual misconduct that might be upsetting to some people.
When I was ten, my mother taught me how to scream.
“Make lots of noise,” she told me. “Make it not worth their time.”
When I was leaving for my first semester of college, my dad bought me a can of pepper spray and showed me how to use it.
“Aim for their face,” he said, “and then run like hell.”
These are the lessons that too many people can relate to. These are the things we need to know as we enter the world—a world that we expect to hurt us.
And why wouldn’t we expect that? According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 26% of undergraduate women will be sexually assaulted. Over 50% of campus sexual violence happens in the first semester, and most often during freshman year.
And so, we’re taught how to avoid being hurt. We’re taught that we can prevent it if we do everything exactly right, and it’s our fault if it happens anyway.
But then, when sexual assault happens—which, as RAINN says, it does every 68 seconds in America—then come the questions.
Were you drunk? Did you lead him on? Did you fight? Well, aren’t you guys dating anyway? Did you actually verbally say no? Are you sure? How can you be sure?
All of these lessons, all of these questions go to the survivor. On our campus, it’s the survivors’ names that we know, and it’s something that happened to them, not something that an abuser did to them. The lessons—don’t drink too much, don’t wear revealing clothes, don’t flirt if you don’t want it—are repeated to the survivors.
But there are some other lessons that we need to learn, and desperately. For example: Don’t rape people. Don’t rape people when they’re drunk. Don’t rape people when they’re sober. Don’t rape people when you’re dating them or when you’re not dating them or when they flirt with you or when they don’t. Don’t f****** rape people.
Apparently, that lesson isn’t so easy to learn. For the last week, our campus has been buzzing with conversations about sexual misconduct. More and more survivors are coming forward.
As we talk about sexual assault on campus, we need to recognize that Millikin isn’t seeing an influx of sexual assaults. We’re seeing an influx in reported sexual assaults.
It has always been like this. People are just, finally, talking about it.
But we still aren’t seeing the full scope of the problem. So much of this is still going unspoken, with students relying on each other for support rather than seeking support or justice. Only 20% of female students will report an assault to law enforcement.
And, when only 25 in 1,000 perpetrators will end up in jail, can you blame them for not coming forward?
Millikin isn’t the only college with this problem. Campus life is notorious for sexual misconduct and has been for decades. As Millikin fights to get sexual misconduct under control, it’s not a sign of Millikin’s failures. It’s a sign of Millikin’s normalcy.
And that’s where the failure lies. If there’s any environment where students feel unsafe or that they might be hurt or that they are in the wrong when they are hurt, we have failed.
Millikin: We are failing.
But we can choose to stop failing at any time. We can actively choose to intervene when we see something wrong, to support survivors, to not tolerate rape culture on our campus. We can create a campus that believes survivors and emphasizes consent. We can choose to act.
And we can choose to teach better lessons. We can teach each other about consent and bystander intervention and how assault is always, always the fault of the perpetrator. And we can empower each other to believe that, to act on that.
I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of waiting for that change. We can create a better campus, if we’re in it together. So let’s start.