Tuesday's string of sexual assaults across Columbia and the rape reported outside Laws residence hall have invoked both anger and fear from the student body, but this also provides a new time for discussion about rape and sexual violence.
The statistics speak for themselves. The MU Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, or the RSVP Center, reports that one in four women and one in 14 men are sexually assaulted during their time in college. Of the women assaulted, 91 percent knew the person who assaulted them and 62 percent were assaulted by a current or former partner.
Most disturbing, however, is that it's estimated that less than 5 percent of rapes are ever reported to the police.
The recent crimes offer us, as a campus and community, the much-needed opportunity to re-evaluate our perception of rape and sexual violence. First of all, we need to shed the blame-the-victim mindset. By its very definition, nobody ever asks to be raped, just liked nobody asks to be robbed or murdered. Yes, people can take safety precautions, but putting blame on anyone but the assaulter is unacceptable.
An environment that blames the victim is part of the reason more than 95 percent of rapes go unreported. How can we, as a society, expect a victim to feel safe reporting a rape or assault if he or she is going to be blamed for it? It’s easy to say that reporting incidents to the police is easy, but nobody can ever put themselves in a victim’s shoes. We have no place to judge another victim’s response in these situations.
Furthermore, we need to abandon the view that rapes and other acts of sexual violence are isolated incidents and are confined only to women. Men also are vulnerable to sexual violence, as are people of different sexual orientations and ages. Rape has no confined demographic, and is not isolated to young women. Rape happens in friendships, relationships and marriages more than it does between strangers. Again, less than 5 percent are ever reported. If every assault were reported, sexual violence would hardly be considered “isolated.”
Thankfully, there are organizations at MU like RSVP, the Sexual Health Advocate Peer Program, or SHAPE, and Men Against Relationship and Sexual Violence, or MARS, that offer resources and help for the victims of sexual violence. The Green Dot campaign, which encourages individuals and organizations to be vigilant and proactive in preventing sexual violence in situations where it could arise, is another helpful effort to prevent assaults before they happen.
However, it seems almost sad that we have to have a campaign like Green Dot. Why should only a few people be responsible for preventing sexual violence? Shouldn’t we all be? Just like the response to the graffiti outside Hatch Hall reflected upon us as a campus and community, our response to acts of sexual violence does the same. It takes an event close to home, like the rape outside Laws Hall, to remind us of the basic values that we stand for not only as MU students, but also as members of a community.
Just as we have stood together against racism, it is time for us to stand together against sexual violence. As a community, we need to reach out to each other to create a safe environment for victims to come forward, feel safe and recover and also so justice can be served. Each of us may have a friend, relative or classmate who has been raped or sexually assaulted, and what kind of society are we to leave them behind? It is time for us to become involved, proactive and supportive, so one day sexual violence can be a thing of the past.