April serves as Sexual Assault Awareness Month and as we move forward, it is very necessary to keep the conversation surrounding sexual assault going on campus. According to statistics collected by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, women on college campuses age 18-24 are three times more likely to experience sexual assault than the average woman. Also while in college, 1 in 5 women will experience some type of sexual assault, according to RAINN.
The statistics surrounding college women and sexual assault are far too concerning to not talk about. Rape and sexual assault is a topic that is shied away from due to the uncomfortable nature of the topic. Due to the lack of conversation about sexual assault, there are many misconceptions about the topic. I am going to point out the misconceptions surrounding sexual assault and talk about the negative impact these can have on society and survivors.
1. Intoxication is the reason sexual assault occurs.
This is so incredibly false. Alcohol and drugs are not to blame for sexual assault, people are. Too often people try to blame the victim and what was in their cup that night, when the decisions of the abuser have nothing to do with how intoxicated the victim was. Alcohol is very prevalent on college campuses, and it is absurd to tell a woman that every time she decides to drink she is putting herself in a situation where she can get sexually assaulted. Just because a woman decides to go to a party, doesn’t mean she is choosing sexual assault. The misconception that drinking makes a victim responsible for sexual assault can lead to shame and guilt, which make an already difficult healing process even harder. The last thing a survivor needs is to feel shame and at-fault for an incident that was out of their control.
2. If a woman was wearing something revealing, she was asking for it.
A low-cut top or another piece of revealing clothing is not the reason an assault happens. “She was asking for it” is something said way too often, and the reality is that a woman is never asking for sexual assault. Society tries to place the blame on the victim by nitpicking every aspect of their clothing when the blame should be placed on the abuser. We are taught from a very young age to not wear anything that can distract or tempt our male peers, and it is no surprise that this mindset made its way into our adulthood. What we decide to wear is for us and should not put us in harm’s way. As mentioned above, placing any sort of blame on the victim can lead to unbearable shame that can be easily avoided with the dispelling of these misconceptions.
3. Sexual assault is random and cannot be done in a relationship.
One of the most common misconceptions about sexual assault is that it can only be committed by a stranger, which is completely false. According to the National Institute of Justice, 85 to 90% of people who have been sexually abused in college knew their abuser, and half of these assaults occurred on dates. This means the attacker is more likely to be someone you know and/or have a relationship with than a stranger. According to RAINN, 39% of assaults are committed by an acquaintance and 33% are committed by a current or former significant other. Assaults can happen in relationships and friendships regardless of history.
4. If there is no force, it isn’t rape.
This is very, very, very false. Any sexual activity without enthusiastic consent is not consensual. The misconception that rape is a forceful act can lead many people to doubt whether or not they have been assaulted. There is no grey area with consent, it is either yes or no consent is given.
5. If no legal action is taken, the assault did not happen.
Only about 20% of college students who are assaulted report their assault to the police, according to RAINN. Along with this statistic, only 6% of perpetrators ever spend a day in jail, according to the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center. Our legal system is fucked. Not only is there an extreme lack of faith in the retribution of an assault, but when a woman goes into court for an assault she is being put under a microscope and torn apart in front of a jury. Just because a woman refuses to go through this does lessen the affect her assault had on her. Holding abusers accountable is very important, but there should be no shame if the survivor decides not to take action. There are also many other factors that can play a role in not reporting an assault, such as fears surrounding safety and reputation.
Misconceptions surrounding rape can be harmful to not only the survivor of an assault but also society. Recognizing these misconceptions and calling them out when we hear them on campus can create a place where abusers are held accountable and survivors can recognize what they have been through.
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Payton Toomey (she/her) is a sophomore majoring in journalism and information sciences and esociety. She loves to cook and golf in her free time.