I’m not going to dance around the subject. I’m going to talk about rape. People don’t like hearing the word, but it’s something that needs to be discussed. In fact, part of the problem is that people don’t like to hear about it. And that’s too bad because this is something everyone should be talking about, given its gravity.
We need to change the way we talk about sexual violence, specifically, the way we talk about rape. We need to be more aware of sexual assault and rape, on and off campus. We should be talking honestly about these things. There are a lot of blurry lines when it comes to rape and sexual assault. People don’t know what counts as assault, what counts as rape or the difference between the two. Only honest discussion will clear up the confusion.
It’s clear there’s plenty of confusion surrounding the subject. A study featured in a journal titled “Violence and Gender” illustrates it well. A small sample of straight men and women were surveyed about coercive sexual behavior. What was really interesting about the study was how the phrasing of the survey questions affected the answers. The results are disturbing, to be honest. Thirty-one percent of the survey respondents said they would force a woman into sex if they wouldn’t get in trouble. However, only 13 percent of respondents said they would rape a woman if they wouldn’t get in trouble.
Men were also more likely to admit to “using coercive behavior,” such as holding a woman down during sex, if the word rape wasn’t used. Interestingly, women’s answers also changed with with the wording of the survey questions. Women were more likely to report past rapes if the assault wasn’t referred to as rape.
To be clear, all the questions asked the exact same thing. Forcing or coercing someone into sex is rape. The distinction just isn’t clear to some people.
This lack of understanding can contribute to the prevalence of rape and other sexual violence in a big way. If we want to stop people from assaulting and raping others, the very first step we need to take is making sure people know what constitutes assault and rape. The problem is finding a way to pull everyone into the conversation.
Sen. Adam Morfeld has introduced a new bill in the legislature that would create and fund a Campus Sexual Assault Prevention Grant Program. This program would provide grants to colleges to help develop programs preventing campus sexual assault. In turn, these programs would promote education, awareness, reporting and bystander intervention, among other things. Morfeld said he introduced this bill because “Students told me it was one of their top issues and an unmet need and more resources were needed for education, prevention and reporting.” This grant program has the potential to be a step forward in sparking a serious discussion about sexual violence here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and on college campuses across the state.
UNL does have programs that address issues such as sexual assault and rape. PREVENT, Victim Advocate and the campus Women’s Center all work to educate students about sexual assault.
Last semester, The Association of Students of the University of Nebraska worked with some of these programs to coordinate the “It’s On Us Week of Action.” The goal of this campaign was to engage college students in the national conversation about sexual violence and rape. There were events every day, including a panel discussion and an open mic night. The problem, however, is these organizations and events aren’t reaching enough people. Those who attend events that involve discussing this topic are typically already passionate about the cause. The message just isn’t reaching the people who need to hear it the most.
I’m proud UNL has been putting forth effort in openly discussing sexual assault on campus. But to fix this problem, everyone has to be involved, and that just isn’t happening. Will more funding make things better? More events? More “Stop the Sketch” wristbands? I don’t know. But if people are talking about it openly and honestly, maybe the conversation about sexual assault will reach new people.
Frankly, the statistics on sexual violence and rape on college campuses are scary. In the past two years, there have been 31 reported sexual assaults on campus at UNL. Sixteen of these were reported as rape. One study found 84 percent of women experience coercive sexual behavior within their first four semesters in college. Nationwide studies have shown five percent of women in college are raped within an academic year. An estimated 68 percent of rapes and other sexual assaults are never even reported, and, if you included unreported rapes, roughly 94 percent of rapists never spend a day in jail.
We need to stop avoiding the conversation. People don’t like talking about rape, hearing about rape or saying the word rape. It’s a harsh, violent word for a harsh, violent crime. It makes people uncomfortable. But maybe if we talk about it more, people will be uncomfortable enough to do something about it.
Rachel Gordon is a freshman English and political science major. Reach her at email@example.com or via @DNOpinion.