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Sunday Reflections: When the Discussion of College Rape is More Reality Than Statistics

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST DISCUSSES SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND RAPE

When I sent my daughter off to college this fall as a freshman, I was very well aware of the statistical truth of college rape in the abstract. I sent her with a black belt in self defense, pepper spray, Plan B, and more prayers than it seems like a person can pray in a normal 24 hour day. But I was not prepared for the reality of college campus rape to hit so close to home. Please note before continuing, my daughter is okay. But someone’s daughter is not.

On Tuesday morning of last week I woke up with a string of texts from Riley that said things like, “if you see the news it’s not me, I am okay.” Which I imagine was met to be reassuring but really just caused a panic. After a bit I was able to touch base with Riley and learned that someone on campus – specifically in my daughter’s college freshman dorm – had been raped in their room. And since I follow news about my kid’s college she knew I would see it and freak out. Which I did.

First, I want to say that my heart breaks for the young person who was the victim of this horrific crime. Their life is forever changed and I hope that the person that did this to them is held responsible to the full extend of the law. Unfortunately, we know from history that this will likely not happen. I know nothing about this case and don’t want to speak on it because it’s not my story to tell. However, I do want to talk about what it is like to be a student and the parent of a student on a college campus where something like this has happened.

As I mentioned, I was not unaware of the reality of rape on college campuses – in the abstract. I was also not prepared for this reality to come so close to home for my child and so soon after she has left the nest and started her journey as both a college student and an adult. This is a new level of fear.

I wish I could tell you that we were new to the idea of sexual violence but we are not. I myself am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, something I have talked frequently about here and I am very open with my two daughters about it because I want them to know what it is before it starts with them. Also, as a survivor, I am very aware that it has shaped parts of my personality and parenting decisions and I feel like it is helpful for them to know who I am and where I am coming from.

Sadly, Riley is also familiar with various forms of sexual harassment and abuse. The first time she was harassed was in middle school. The same is true for her younger sister, who started middle school this year. And most unfortunately, Riley has friends that have been abused in some truly horrific ways. It is unimaginably hard if not impossible to get daughters to college without knowledge or personal experience of sexual harassment and abuse.

I’m not going to lie, this is the aspect of college I was most afraid of. And now, here we are, there is an actual rapist on my daughter’s college campus and I don’t know if she’s safe. It is my understanding that this person has not been caught. But the thing is, this person is probably not the only one. It is interesting to note that although I can rattle off the statistic that 1 in 4 girls/women will be the victims of sexual violence, I can not tell you a statistic about how many men will be the perpetrators of sexual violence. And when I went looking for a statistic, it was much harder to find. We talk a lot about the victims and what they can do to stay safe or get help, but we talk very little about who the criminals are. We talk about sexual violence using a passive voice, a woman was raped on campus. But what about the person who did the raping?

When you look for information about sexual violence, it looks like this:

  • One of the most shocking facts about sexual assault is that approximately only 5% of sexual assault reports filed have been proven false.
  • 82% of all juvenile sexual assault victims are female.
  • 90% of adult rape victims are female.
  • 41% of sexual assaults against Native Indians are committed by a stranger.
  • Adolescents aged 14‐17 were by far the most likely to be sexually victimized; nearly one in six (16.3%) was sexually victimized in the past year. (source: https://legaljobs.io/blog/sexual-assault-statistics/)

Or this:

  • 82% of all juvenile victims are female. 90% of adult rape victims are female.6
  • Females ages 16-19 are 4 times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault.3
  • Women ages 18-24 who are college students are 3 times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Females of the same age who are not enrolled in college are 4 times more likely.7 (source: https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)

But very seldom do you hear us talk about who is committing acts of rape and how they are being held accountable. I found this statement, which floored me: Most perpetrators of sexual violence are men, so why do we talk about it as a women’s issue and not a man’s issue. (source: https://www.dividedstatesofwomen.com/2017/11/2/16597768/sexual-assault-men-himthough)

Even I, a person who has long advocated for changes in the ways we talk about sexual violence, found myself on the phone with my daughter telling her all the things she should do to keep her safe. Before she left for college her grandmother even looked at her and said, don’t take drinks from strangers and don’t go to places alone. The focus is always on what the victims are doing, wearing, going, etc. And the statistics are always about who the victims are. Everything about the way we talk about rape is wrong.

Someone is committing all of these rapes. We need to be talking about that. And honestly, a lot of women do. There are things called whisper networks for a reason. And I have spent both of my children’s lifetimes telling them to trust their guts and not give people the benefit of the doubt if their alarm bells were going off. We talk about things like watching how a boy/man jokes, how he responds to failure or boundaries or simply to the word no, and the signs of an unhealthy relationship.

It’s horrifying to know that it’s the year 2021 and we’re still sending our daughters to college with fear in our hearts that they will be raped. It’s only our first semester in college and already, the reality is so much realer than I could have ever imagined. My heart aches for our daughters.

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