Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

May 9, 2014

Campus rape report alarming

— — I don’t care how drunk you were. Or how low your shirt was or how high your skirt was. I don’t care if you made out with the guy earlier in the night. If you said “No” and he ignored you, he raped you.

I don’t care how drunk you were, either, fella. Or how sexy she was dancing or flirtatious she was when talking with you. I don’t even care if you had “hooked up” with her the previous weekend. If she said “No” and you ignored her, you raped her.

One in five women is sexually assaulted in college, most often during her freshman or sophomore year. Most often, it’s by someone she knows — and just as often, she doesn’t report what happened.

When I first heard this ugly data a couple of weeks ago, it slapped me hard across the heart. It wasn’t just a statistic because I could picture the faces of two dozen wonderful young women I know who’ve packed up and gone to college in the last two years. According to this frightening formula, as many as four of the two dozen women could be among the victims.

Young coeds are sharing their stories locally and nationally because they are being given a welcoming space to speak. The White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault was established on January 22, 2014 and the group just released its first report. The initial steps of the Task Force are to: identify the scope of the problem on college campuses; help prevent campus sexual assault; help schools respond effectively when a student is assaulted; and improve, and make more transparent, the federal government’s enforcement efforts.

The White House has set up a website called notalone.gov as a reference point for “students, schools, and anyone interested in finding resources on how to respond to and prevent sexual assault on college and university campuses and in our schools.”

Think about it yourself. You know at least five young women at college — a neighbor, your babysitter, the grocery store clerk, a friend’s daughter or your own daughter. Statistically, one of them could become victim to a violent attack by a young man ... a young man you may know, as well.

My friends who have raised boys have been very clear with them. They’ve explained that “No” means no, no matter what happened earlier. They’ve explained that kindness doesn’t mean flirtation. They’ve explained that a date doesn’t necessarily end with a kiss, much less sex. They’ve explained the difference between two consenting adults versus a young woman whose judgment is compromised by alcohol or drugs.

The problem doesn’t stop with the perpetrator. Some of our colleges and universities — fine Ivy League institutions alongside the larger “party schools” — are not protecting these women. They are blaming them. They are assaulting them a second time with inquisitions and judgmental verbal abuse. They are stripping them of their dignity.

Just ask the young woman from Columbia University who had to go before the disciplinary panel and describe in detail being raped by a fellow student. One of the two women on the supposed “expert” panel, the New York Times reporter wrote of the coed’s story, “asked her, repeatedly, how the painful sex act she described was physically possible.” “The fact that I had to tell an embarrassing story and then teach them an embarrassing subject on top of that felt really gross,” the young woman said. Ultimately, her accusation was dismissed — that was the third dismissal that year for the same man who three different women charged with sexual assault.

This may be difficult information to read in a family newspaper but the reality is that families are getting the call home from their daughters that no one wants to receive, as one victim described it. So this topic needs to be discussed among families and society at large to be addressed, prosecuted, and prevented.

The two dozen women I know, who worked hard to get into the college of their choice, deserve to walk with confidence on their campus, make friends, and enjoy their new adulthood without fearing what boy might be a sexual Jekyll and Hyde. We want them to be smart and discerning but haven’t we all met, dated, or even married someone who later revealed their dark side? The bad guys don’t always wear black hats. The girls may not always be dressed in virginal white. But that doesn’t matter. Their sexual history has nothing to do with “No.”

The report says clearly that student education programs need to be expanded, emergency support needs to be in place, and disciplinary channels should be better designed and enforced.

The final words of the report are chilling, “Our work continues.” That’s because sexual violence continues, too. As the website says, let’s make it clear the victims are “not alone.” Let’s all say “No” and try to stop it.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who lives in North Carolina with her family. Email her jdesmond@bdtonline.com.

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