If the continued prominence of sexual assault discussions in the United States over the past years has revealed anything, it's that the United States is rife with misunderstanding. The #MeToo movement has propelled the issue of sexual assault and campus rape culture to the forefront of American politics, and yet some still seem to lack even a basic awareness of the problems facing women in modern America. Misperceptions and misinformation pose an immediate challenge to remedying issues of sexual assault. In order to promote safe campus culture, students across the nation must team up to support informed campus leadership and create comprehensive issue awareness.
At the heart of campus rape culture lies a stark disparity between male and female understandings of the problem. Statistics provided by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network demonstrate that only about 5 percent of male undergraduate students have firsthand experience as victims of rape or sexual assault. While male sexual assault statistics are in no way insignificant — any instance of sexual assault commands attention — they underscore undergraduate men’s comparative detachment from the problem. Additionally, many men still struggle to understand even the most fundamental aspects of the problem. Sixty-six percent of male respondents in a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll were unable to correctly define sexual harassment and assault.
Female undergraduates generally have a less nebulous understanding of campus rape culture, or culture generally surrounding ideas of sexual assault, one that normalizes or trivializes sexual impropriety. According to RAINN, nearly one in four female college students experience rape or sexual assault during their time in college. Forty-two percent of women under 50 reported being concerned about being sexually assaulted compared to 5 percent of men.
Broad engagement with the issue of campus rape culture has helped spawn a growing community of leaders willing to address and tackle the issue through student outreach. At UNL, awareness campaigns such as the annual March to End Rape on Campus have been successful in fostering dialogues between concerned students and amplifying activism surrounding the issue of campus rape culture.
These efforts, however, can only go so far in remedying the problem and deeper engagement among undergraduate men remains essential in bringing an end to campus rape culture.
Lack of issue awareness among men has played a driving role in perpetuating misperceptions of campus rape culture. Undergraduate men, generally detached from the tangible realities of sexual assault, glean their insights largely from media narratives and, to a lesser extent, issue awareness campaigns. Naturally, this creates problems as media outlets often peddle extreme stereotypes of victimhood and disproportionately cover instances of false reporting.
Battling systemic misunderstanding of sexual assault among men requires new approaches beyond traditional issue awareness campaigns and campus activism. In order to effectively combat rape culture on campus, men must first harness a greater understanding of sexual assault statistics and the challenges facing survivors looking to come forward with their experiences. Education on issues concerning sexual assault, particularly its prevalence and the relative infrequency of false reporting, is the best way to combat widespread misperceptions of rape culture. Moreover, if men are informed on the challenges facing sexual assault survivors — namely fear of retaliation — they will be better equipped to understand why it often takes many years for survivors to step forward.
The most effective way to permeate knowledge and rational perceptions of campus rape culture into male-dominant communities is by elevating informed voices within those circles. By positioning knowledgeable individuals into leadership roles, proponents of gender equality will finally gain a foothold within the communities of men unaffected by traditional advocacy methods. Informed leadership within fraternities and majority-male campus organizations is better equipped to bring those issues to the forefront within those communities than any outside actors.
This is not to say campus organizations and advocacy groups themselves don’t have an important role in the process. Student advocacy groups play a powerful role in disseminating information to campus leadership and equipping them with the skills to properly support sexual assault survivors. Allied together, campus advocacy groups and campus leadership have the ability to make substantial progress in combating campus rape culture.
Cultivating an informed campus culture requires the support of all students. Women have already made great strides in promoting dialogue and knowledge within their communities. Now men must assume their responsibility and follow suit.
The time has come for men to step up and help bring an end to pervasive rape culture on all college campuses, including at UNL. Working together, men and women can spread informed perspectives of sexual assault and accomplish substantial progress in creating a safe and respectful campus environment.