Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Educate the Perpetrator, Not the Victim: A Critique of the Interventions for Sexual Assault on College Campuses - Alison Nicoletti

Sexual assault is an extremely prevalent issue on college campuses today. Interventions have been established to combat the problem, but they are not successful. According to the U.S. Department of Education, data from over 6,000 institutions of higher education showed the number of forcible sexual offenses on campuses has increased 17% from 2001 to 2003. Current interventions work strictly with women, teaching them how to avoid becoming a victim. It is agreed that victims need, and deserve, support from their college, but these institutions are only taking reactive measures. They are contradicting themselves by working to help the victim, but not working to stop the problem. The current interventions will never be successful until they address the cause of sexual assault: the perpetrators.

To stop sexual assault on campuses, men, the attackers, need to be educated. A social and behavioral construct, framing theory, helps explain the negative consequences that are reached by only educating the victims and that ultimately educating the victim will not solve the problem of sexual assault. According to the theory, there are two types of framing: framing for access or framing for content. In the college context, framing for content is the most relevant. Educating the victim, and focusing all intervention efforts on solely the victim, frames the woman as the party to blame. This type of intervention publicly sends the message that women are responsible for sexual assaults, despite the fact that they are the victims. It frames women as the ones who need help and need to make changes. It absolves men of any responsibility for sexual assaults. These messages lead many colleges to inadvertently blame the woman for being too drunk, dressing too scandalously, or for walking home alone. This framing in turn prevents many women from reporting rape, which results in the high number of uncaught and unpunished rapists (Mobilizing Will).

Many college men do not know that some of their actions classify as "rape" until they are taught the legal definition. According to the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault (NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault ): 1 in 12 college men admitted to committing acts that met the legal definition of rape. Sexual assault can no longer be an option for college men. First men need to understand what actions qualify as sexual assault according to the legal definition; then, for them to change their behaviors, they have to understand why these actions are wrong.

Interventions focusing on women, teach them to live a life filled with the fear of being raped. Clearly, this fear is based in reality, as one in four college women report surviving rape or attempted rape (One in Four.) " 'Women ages 16 to 24 experience rape at rates four times higher than the assault rate of all women,' making the college (and high school) years the most vulnerable for women. College women are more at risk for rape and other forms of sexual assault than women the same age but not in college," (Center for Problem-Oriented Policing). College should be an equally safe place for all its students, not a place where men have control. Men who commit acts of sexual assault gain control on campuses by demonstrating their power and dominance over women in the form of sexual assault. “Rape is a crime based on the need to control, shame and harm,” (Center for Substance Abuse Prevention). As stated on the National Campus Safety Awareness Month’s website, “Sexual assault is not about sex, it is about one person exerting power over another.” Current interventions are not addressing this control that men have on campus; instead they are leading women to live in fear which increases their ability to be controlled.

Despite the broad critique that colleges focus their sexual assault interventions on educating the victims instead of the assaulters, there are three main points of these interventions which lead to their ultimate failure. The main targets that women are commonly taught as a part of these interventions are: stay in safe areas with trusted people; to watch what she drinks and how much she consumes; and to set limits to her sexual activity prior to going out. These three points are thought by colleges to lower the chances of women becoming victims of rape. Overall, this focus on educating solely the women will not end the sexual assaults on campuses as it completely ignores any male-focused education, and frames women as the party to blame. Men need to be educated so that they understand what sexual assault is and why it needs to stop.

The current approach used on campuses is reactive; it is created by learning from the victims and what they could have done "better" to not become a victim. Currently a common part of campus interventions is to train women to keep themselves "safe." Common advice given by many colleges include don't walk alone at night, stay on a well lit path, be aware of your surroundings, discuss your schedule with close friends (Boston University - Avoid Becoming a Victim). These messages instill fear into women and make them think twice before even going outside after dark. This fear is created because the women are taught that men are dangerous, and to stay safe the women are in charge of avoiding an encounter with these dangerous men. These messages that are constantly taught to women enforce the framing of women as the party to blame. They lead to the assumption that if a women is assaulted it is because she didn’t do everything possible to protect herself. Men need to be educated to keep the blame off of women. The ignorance and denial of men prevents them from changing their actions. 84% of college men whose behavior meets the legal definition of sexual assault do not consider their actions as sexual assault (Fact #5, S.A.F.E. - SUNY Stony Brook). Once they know what they are doing wrong they can be taught why it is wrong and then change. It is unreasonable to expect change from any person if they do not know what they are doing wrong, or why it is wrong.

A second common part of campus interventions is to warn women about their drug and alcohol intake. Women are taught about date-rape drugs that could be slipped into their drinks by a perpetrator if they are not careful. Women are then taught how to avoid having these drugs slipped in their drink. Additionally women are taught that using drugs and alcohol puts them in an unsafe situation because they become more vulnerable. As part of the sexual assault interventions at San Diego State University, they provide advice including: alcohol prevents women from being able to "think clearly, communicate effectively, and react appropriately." It prevents them from being able to notice the attempts of men to take them to a secluded location and it decreases the likelihood that they will notice the persistent advances made by perpetrators. Alcohol also slows motor skills, inhibiting the necessary vocal and physical responses to an attack. (US Department of Justice - Community Oriented Policing Services)
Overall alcohol is a large contributing factor in sexual assaults on college campuses. Approximately 75% of men and at least 55% of women involved in acquaintance rapes had been drinking or taking drugs just before the rape (NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault). Men need to be educated not only on their alcohol use but also on their beliefs around alcohol use and women. Men often try to use alcohol to justify their actions. “Once a man has used intoxication to justify forced sex, he is more likely to believe that alcohol causes this type of behavior and to use this as an excuse in the future,” (College Drinking Prevenetion).

The third ineffective point of college sexual assault interventions, used at colleges such as Boston College, is teaching women to set a limit to their sexual activity before they go out. This lesson is based on the assumption that if a woman becomes inebriated or feels pressured by a sexual situation, she may become confused by what decision she should make. If she had a pre-set limit to her sexual activity prior to going out, she could rely on that limit. Focusing on the need for women to change again reinforces the framing of women and puts them at fault. Framing in this way allows women to be viewed as the ones who should be in control, and consequently as the ones that lost control if an assault occurred. If a woman changes her mind during sexual activity and wants to go further than she expected she would prior to the situation, she should be free to and she should not feel restricted by the limits of her preset "plan." This is another way that women are punished and the men, the predators, are allowed to continue in their ways. In addition, by encouraging women to set sexual activity limits without regard to men and their limits, women are openly recognizing and accepting that men have no limits. This leads to the assumption that during sexual activity, it is up to the woman to take control, since women are supposed to be in charge of sexual limits for themselves and men. There is no reason that women should be in charge of all sexual decisions, and that men should bear absolutely none of the responsibility.

In conclusion, current college interventions frame woman as the responsible party in sexual assaults. This technique is not going to end sexual assault on campuses because women are the victims and therefore not to blame if they are assaulted. It is men that are the assaulters and they need to be stopped. They need to be taught what it is that they are doing that is wrong and they need to be taught why it is wrong. Currently most men don’t know some of their actions are legally defined as assault. Until they know and understand what they are doing wrong, sexual assault on campus is not going to end. Statistics show that using interventions that frame women as the party to blame is not combating the problem of sexual assault on campuses; men need to be educated.

1. NYC Alliance Against Sexual Assault
2. Jane Doe
3. San Diego State University – Counseling & Psychological Services
4. The Sexual Victimization of College Women – National Institute of Justice
5. One in Four
6. Center for Problem-Oriented Policing
7. Mobilizing Will for Social Change. Salmon, C. Michigan State University. 2003 ( p.15)
8. Sexual Assault Facts and Education, State University of New York at Stony Brook
9. College Drinking – Changing the Culture. Created by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
10. US Department of Justice - Community Oriented Policing Services
11. National Campus Safety Awareness Month
12. Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
13. US Department of Education
14. Boston College Sexual Assault Prevention


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree 100%. I didn't report my rape because there was no way I could do so without feeling like I would look like a total whore who put herself in that situation. I had 3 drinks with my boss in his office at the worksite at the end of the day. Halfway through the first one (which I sipped slowly, I know my limits and had no intention of getting drunk) I felt very, very affected, buzzing way more than I should have been. It was somewhere along this point that the words "it's too late, i'm too far gone, it's too late" floated through my confused, lightheaded, disoriented, dizzy brain. Judgement gone, body totally relaxed, floaty feeling, not thinking clearly at all. Accepted another drink. Think it was around this point, or slightly before, he started expressing he wanted to have sex with me, which I refused, and gave him all the reasons why I didn't want to have sex with him, or want to have casual sex with anybody in general. Tryed to leave, body too relaxed, brain not working properly, wanted to leave, brain just not cooperating anymore, can't keep a coherent thought focused longer than a second before it's gone, body not cooperating anymore, symptoms worsening very quickly, all throughout he verbally pressures me to stay. Pressure to have sex with him intensifies, trys kissing me several times, I refuse, laughing for Christ's sake, failing to recognize the threat. If I'd been sober, I would have RAN. Exposes penis a few times and walks to my face, I refuse and lean away each time. I couldn't get up to leave, looked at door a few times, leaned away from him and verbally said no each time he approached. 1/4 of the way through 2nd drink, hand/arm spasmed, drink spilled on floor. Quickly given replacement drink. Not sure if I drank it all. Nauseous, stumbled to bathroom, used bathroom. He follows me, and pounces on me after I came out. Ripped off shirt and bra while I was washing my hands. I told him no again, looked at door, took a couple of steps toward door. He laughs, makes light of it, persists. I felt very weak and weird and confused and out of it, and I offered no resistance, I don't know why, I just stood there and let him guide me to the bed where he quickly removed my jeans and underwear. At some point I started participating, and I hate to say it, but I enjoyed it. Know I blacked out, came to experiencing anal sodomy, which I have never done, which I have never wanted to do, told him no. Continued to have vaginal sex with him, which he initiated. And for someone who was so into this sex, I was completely dry, if you know what I mean. Lost consciousness or fell asleep at some point. Left following morning thinking I just accidentally just got really drunk and had sex with someone I didn't like or find attractive. Don't know if I had any memory loss, can't shake the irrational fear he may have taken pictures, don't know why I have this thought. Months later, still bothered by this, I feel like I was drugged and raped. Can't shake the feeling of being contaminated, can't shake the fear I have been infected with something. Went to doctor, lab tests revealed nothing, but they won't test for herpes, hiv and hepatitis can be dormant and not show up on blood tests for years, for decades. I am so scared, and I can't shake this fear. I will not report it because I feel like I will be blamed, I feel like it's my fault for letting myself get into that situation in the first place. I am not okay, I fear men, I fear affliction with disease, I fear my death, I fear my death is coming for me too soon, and I cannot shake this feeling.

I see all this information in the media and on the internet blaming the victim before the crime even occurs - "watch your drink, don't put yourself in that situation in the first place, don't drink to access", etc...where are the television ads and news reports and public education campaigns that educate the perpetrator on what exactly defines rape, the good or bad man who used drugs or alcohol to lower resistance so he can have sex with a woman with no regards to her sober wishes. Bad men rape women to gain power and control, to humiliate, to use. Good men do this to, many of them not knowing that they are doing this. I know lives are ruined with false rape accusations, but many of these sexual assaults would not occur in the first place if good men knew that they were actually committing rape.

I don't want this to happen to anyone else. Educate the public on what rape is, and punish perpetrators, set examples of good and bad men who do this so that people are more careful and think through the consequences and risks before it happens. It absolutely sickens me how many women are sexually assaulted while intoxicated, and horrifies me how many people don't even recognize this predator-like behavior for what it is - rape.

10:16 AM  
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