President Obama recently announced that the White House was forming a task force to protect college women from what he called “the crime and the outrage of sexual violence.”
“I want every young man in America to know that real men do not hurt women,” proclaimed a passionate Obama in his weekly Internet address.
The changes Obama presented are helpful, but he also was sure to point out that the federal government cannot singlehandedly erase the stain of sexual assault from the country. And he’s right — the government can provide resources and help from a periphery, but that’s not enough to end the crime of rape. Instead, the power and responsibility to stop sexual assault lies with everyone — including, and especially, college students.
The president’s declaration came just a few weeks after eye-opening statistics revealed that one in every five women on college campuses are the victims of sexual assault. According to numbers released by the White House Council on Women and Girls, an estimated 22 million women and 1.5 million men have been raped at some point during their life nationwide. Additionally, the report states that one in five women have been sexually assaulted while attending college, and that only 12 percent of those students have reported the crimes.
These are staggering statistics, to say the least. If this average holds true for UCR, then over 4,000 UCR students have suffered the pain, humiliation and trauma of rape. And what’s really sickening is knowing that college — the place where intellectual minds abound and the very spot where the future leaders of the world reside — happens to be the same place where these crimes are being committed on a seemingly regular basis.
In 2012, the University of California Police Department revealed that a total of 54 cases of sexual assault had been reported across the UC system. Fortuitously, that’s below the national average, but that’s still a jump of 15 percent compared to the previous year. What’s more, from January to November of 2013, the city of Riverside reported 22 incidences of rape in just the eastern section of the city, where UCR is located. It’s a decrease from previous years, but it still means that once every two weeks, at the same time someone is on the receiving end of a paycheck, someone else is on the receiving end of rape.
These disturbing numbers are a great cause for concern — but how do you, just one college student, prevent these crimes from happening in the first place? Surely this is a task for the police, right? It’s true that the police have a role to play, and are important in bringing rapists to justice. But as great as the police force is, frequently officers are only able to arrest the perpetrator after the heinous act is committed. This gives victims some peace of mind from the short-term horror, but still forces them to live with the nerve-fraying aftermath of sexual assault, including elevated risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide.
Instead, the focus must be on prevention — preventing the police from needing to get involved and preventing the rape from ever occurring. Fortunately, any student can play a role in stopping sexual assault. It’s called bystander intervention, and it’s simple: recognize a situation that could potentially lead to sexual assault, and defuse it.
Admittedly, bystander intervention can be pretty tricky. For instance, picture yourself at college party, with music blaring, students tipsy and a few even looking to get lucky that night. Across the room you witness it: A young man desperately attempting to force himself onto a girl who has had one too many drinks. As you’re watching this, you think to yourself: “I should do something, but what? What, am I supposed to go up to the guy, drunk off his ass, and start a potentially dangerous confrontation?”
Not necessarily. University of New Hampshire researcher Jane Stapleton, who runs intervention programs around the nation and even in Europe, proposes that students get creative when it comes to intervention. It doesn’t have to be a direct confrontation — a few of her ideas include: suddenly turning on the lights at a party, turning off the music or “accidentally” spilling a drink on the would-be assailant.
While some may appear comical at first glance, these solutions can actually end up being practical approaches in execution. There’s no better way to kill the mood than drenching an overly pushy guy’s pants in beer. The goal is not to confront — after all, who really wants to go toe-to-toe with an inebriated person at a rowdy college party? At the same time, one wouldn’t want to be a powerless bystander in these kinds of situations. These methods can be a solid third option for dealing with these kinds of issues as they provide third parties the chance to intervene and prevent sexual assault, and especially in instances where nobody else is around to prevent it.
In addition to that, it is also worth noting that additional preventive measures are offered by our very own university. Consider UCR’s Women’s Resource Center, for instance, which runs the Campus Safety Escort Service (CSES) and provides a safe space for people to discuss potentially abusive relationships and rape. The residence halls’ alcohol safety program is also beneficial in helping students figure out how to party safely and avoid rape. These programs should be expanded and made more prominent so UCR students have the opportunity to learn more about sexual assault and how to prevent it.
As an individual, there are a number of prevention strategies that are already well-known. For instance, walking home in groups can deter would-be attackers, and staying in well-lit areas helps too. At a party, it’s best to not get too drunk.
With that said, we must also recognize that there is still more work to be done. One rape that is perpetrated in society is one rape too many. It is our duty as college students, and as the future leaders of the world, to become more aware of sexual assault cases as they happen and to educate ourselves of ways to prevents these atrocities before they even occur.