April is sexual assault awareness month. The timing seems fitting this year with the prominent rape trial of two star high school athletes from Steubenville, Ohio, concluding just over two weeks ago.
For a few weeks, it seemed like media coverage of the trial was popping up everywhere. In fact, the way media portrayed the case was one of the most disturbing things about it.
When the two high school boys who had been accused of raping and underage girl at a party were found guilty, some media outlets mourned the end of their promising athletic careers, worried about what effect being found guilty of rape would have on two 16-year-old boys, and stressed the point that the victim was drunk at the time the rape occurred.
The way the media covered the trial is a sad reflection of our society’s views on rape. Victims of sexual assault or rape are often blamed for letting themselves be in a situation where such events could occur, or they are harassed by people who think they are ruining the life of the individual they accuse of assaulting them. Our media laments perpetrators of rape who otherwise could have been outstanding citizens and often does little to show compassion for the victims.
This unfortunate phenomenon is often referred to as “rape culture.” As college students, we can and should work to change this culture by changing the way sexual assault, its victims and its perpetrators are perceived.
In our society, people joke about rape without a second thought. If you walk down the hall of any academic building during finals, you will probably hear at least one student boasting about how they “raped” their biggest test.
In reality, rape and sexual assault are anything but funny and we should take them seriously. According to statistics gathered by UW-Whitewater Police, the City of Whitewater Police Dept., UW-Whitewater Student Life, UW-Whitewater Residence Lief and other campus authorities, there were 13 reported forcible sex offences on campus and four reported forcible sex offences including forcible rape on public property from 2009 to 2011.
Both men and women can be victims of rape and sexual assault, and, according to a 2007 study by the National Institute of Justice, most victims of physically forced or incapacitated sexual assault were victimized by someone they knew.
By altering the way we perceive victims of sexual assault, we can move away from “rape culture.” Frequently, victims of rape and sexual assault are blamed for letting such things happen to them. People say they didn’t fight hard enough or they were acting seductively and should have expected something to happen. In the Steubenville case, people harassed the victim, stating that she was drunk or a slut, even going as far as threatening the victim because they believed she intentionally ruined the lives of the boys accused of raping her.
We need to move away from blaming the victims and realize they are just that – victims. They didn’t ask to be assaulted or put themselves in a bad situation to intentionally ruin someone else’s life. They endured a tragedy that no one should have to go through, and they don’t deserve to be stigmatized for something that happened to them.
Finally, we need to change the way we view people who commit rape. There is no excuse for sexual assault or rape. An overactive libido or feelings of sexual frustration don’t give anyone the right to violate someone else. Rape is a decision, just like firing a gun or running a red light is a decision. If someone chooses to sexually assault another person, he or she is throwing his or her own life away. We shouldn’t spend time grieving the glowing careers or lives they could have had if they hadn’t chosen to commit a crime.
Rape and sexual assault are tragic crimes that need to be taken seriously if we want to move away from rape culture. Simply by changing the way we view these crimes, their victims and their perpetrators, we can change our society.