Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Sexual assault is inevitable in our society and there is very little we can do to stop it. Prevention efforts can only do so much, and even then, their effectiveness is extremely limited.
There has been a surge in awareness regarding sexual assaults on college campuses over the past few years, yet according to a report by the federal Department of Education, the number of reported forcible sex crimes have actually increased from 2,200 in 2001 to 3,300 in 2011.
According to the most recent statistics from the American College Health Association, 7 percent of college female students reported being sexually touched without their consent and 3 percent of college female students reported experiencing non-consensual attempted sexual penetration. At Emory, that statistic is slightly higher at 7.5 and 3.5 percent, respectively.
From my first impressions at Emory as a freshman, I’m not exactly surprised by this data. No, I haven’t observed any explicit instances of sexual assault. I have, however, experienced situations that have made me more than uncomfortable.
There are two things I can take away from these statistics and observations. The first, and most obvious, is that incidents of sexual misconduct happen all too often at Emory and on other college campuses. But that’s something people have been saying for years. The second, and more important lesson, is that sexual assault is virtually inevitable. And while I don’t think we should be completely defeatist regarding education about sexual assault, I believe education can only go so far. As of now, there does not appear to be evidence of a decrease in total sexual assaults due to educative programs.
There are, however, ways we can help stem the tide and combat the devastating consequences of sexual assault: increase the support for sexual assault survivors and increase the excommunication of perpetrators. I actually believe Creating Emory and Sexual Assault Peer Advocates (an organization at Emory that trains students on how to support survivors of sexual assault) deal with the former decently well by advocating for students to be trained in supporting survivors and having a discussion about the right way to support survivors. Creating Emory is on the right track to creating an atmosphere with the proper support infrastructure.
But I find it hard to believe that the majority of sexual offenders are unaware that what they are doing is wrong, and I don’t think education is an effective enough way to stop them, and to a certain extent I consider it to be futile. No amount of education can convince those who force themselves onto someone else that what they are doing is wrong.
According to a 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, community education and public awareness on college campuses did see an increase in bystander intervention, however showed no proof of actual decrease in sexual misconduct attempts.
Thus I believe that once a sexual assault takes place, it is more important that we have the appropriate systems to deal with the aftermath than worrying about preventing the assault through education. We need to continue to make sure that we breed an environment in which survivors always have someone to talk to and somewhere to go after an assault happens.
Furthermore, we need to create an environment in which perpetrators are left with nowhere to go. The best way to do this is to no longer allow sexual assaults to be dealt with internally on college campuses. They should instead, be dealt with as a criminal matter and, if found guilty, perpetrators should receive very lengthy sentences.
Of course, the privacy of the survivors should be protected, but that must not inhibit us from ensuring that perpetrators get the sentences they deserve.
The only way to deter people who may be inclined to commit an act of sexual misconduct is to ensure the intense and unequivocal ostracism of already convicted perpetrators. We need to tell the community that these people don’t deserve a place in our society when they commit this crime.
While I still don’t believe that this will completely eradicate sexual assault, I think it is the best tool we have in quelling its prevalence.
And, as Creating Emory and Sexual Assault Peer Advocates seem to be working toward: we need to train as many people as possible to be able to help out others and deal with various situations of sexual misconduct appropriately.
We’ve known for a long enough time now that sexual misconduct is unacceptable. Yet it still occurs on a fairly regular basis and there is no indication of its end. Simply put, education regarding sexual assault doesn’t work. Education at this point is obsolete. There are a certain number of people in our society who are going to continue to commit these heinous actions.
We need to make sure the Bill Cosby’s and Edward Heath’s of the world know they haven’t gotten away with anything. In doing so, we will alert others that they won’t get away with it either. Only once we outwardly and aggressively scream that these perpetrators have no place in modern society, will we see a decrease in the number of sexual assaults.
I don’t have a defeatist outlook, I have a realistic one. And once we can be realistic about ourselves as a society, we can more efficiently and effectively combat this epidemic.
Zack Ashley is a College freshman from New York City, New York.
“If you have been affected by violence and/or would like to speak with someone, students can get free confidential advocacy and support through Wanda Swan, the Respect Program Advocate, at [email protected] or 404.727.7388”