Could I be 1 in 4?

Emma Sulkowicz photo from http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/columbia-mattress-student-draws-attention-anti-rape-movement-article-1.1948842
Emma Sulkowicz has been carrying a mattress around Columbia University to make visible her rape on campus and to urge the university to take action.  (Photo source: New York Daily News, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/columbia-mattress-student-draws-attention-anti-rape-movement-article-1.1948842)

As a senior in high school, one of the things I am looking forward to most is going to college. I love the idea of having a fresh start entering an educational institution with a plethora of opportunities.

As a prospective freshman, there are many factors that go into what I want in a college, and until this year, I never thought about how colleges and universities address sexual assault and rape would be a factor in my decision-making.

Sexual assault and rape on college campuses is not a new pattern, however, because of social media, it has become an increasingly popular topic in the news, with more victims of sexual assault and rape sharing their stories. Many of the ways in which people can share their stories and find support are websites such as Surviving in Numbers and The Joyful Heart Foundation.

Others can look to activists who are sharing their stories through protest art, such as Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia University, who has been carrying the mattress she was raped on in adamant protest against the school’s disregard for the incident.

Emma’s protest aims to make sure the school is accountable and takes action against the perpetrators of campus violence against women. Sulkowicz, now a senior at Columbia, continues to fight to have her rapist, as well as others be brought to justice and held accountable by their actions.

On Wednesday, October 29th, students at colleges and high schools across the country participated in the “Carry That Weight” movement, standing with victims of sexual assault and starting conversation about campus rape. The movement, which was inspired by Emma’s mattress protest sparked conversations and action across the country. The impact that #carrythatweight as well as Emma’s demonstration have created is immense, and people have begun to see the important of awareness and activism, and the change it can create. Carry That Weight states that:

|”Rape culture is learned and therefore rape culture can be unlearned. Universities should be required to teach bystander intervention. All universities should be required to have up to date services to aide survivors in their recovery. Any university administrator who covers up a campus rape, or does not  work with law enforcement to ensure to ensure that student is expelled  should be prosecuted for criminal negligence. Let’s #CarryThatWeight into a future free of rape culture. “

Students at LREI participate in #carrythatweight. Photo Credit: Mikayla Block
Students at LREI participate in #carrythatweight. (Photo Credit: Mikayla Block)

No Red Tape, a student organization created by students at Columbia led the Carry That Weight march this October. Students set up twenty eight mattresses around the campus in protest, urging the schools administration to take action and accountability for the lack of response regarding Sulkowicz’s rape. One student, in an interview with Huffington Post, stated that

“The symbolism of them literally dumping the mattresses in the trash within an hour,[is]  so indicative of how they handle sexual assault on this campus — they literally throw out rape cases without a second thought.”

This article in Huffington Post highlights one of the most important issues within rape cases on college campuses is the lack of response from the institutions. In fact, the lack of response has been highlighted and widely discussed, as both students and adults find the absence of assistance in bringing about justice and action regarding campus rape. One Huffington Post article gives a shocking statistics, only 13% of college campus rape cases resulted in the expulsion of the perpetrator.  So, what message is this type of statistic giving? That raping a student at a college does not necessarily mean you are expelled. That you can still continue your education at the institution, even if you violate another student through rape and violence.

Title IX Campaign Against Sexual Assault. (Image from Buzzfeed http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/survivors-of-sexual-assault-tell-the-numbers-behind-stories)
Title IX Campaign. Image from http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelzarrell/survivors-of-sexual-assault-tell-the-numbers-behind-stories

One of the biggest factors in addressing in rape and assault in schools has been Title IX. Title IX is a law that disallows sexual discrimination in educational institutions.

Title IX applies to all genders and enforces all schools to take active measures in order to help assist sexual assault victims and ensure that they may continue their education at the institution.

An important aspect of Title IX is the accountability and responsibility that all schools and universities have towards both the victims and the assailant. Title IX enables students at colleges across the country to take action in making sure that colleges and universities are proactive regarding issues of sexual assault on campuses.

Similar to Title IX is the The Clery Act. The Clery Act, otherwise known as The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, was created in the 1980’s, after a student at Lehigh University, Jeanne Clery, was raped and brutally murdered. The Clery Act requires that on October 1, all colleges submit crime reports in all areas of crime, that occur on campus during that year.

This means that more colleges have to put out information regarding reported sexual assaults that happens on their campus. This information goes out to both current and prospective students, as well as all employees.  Many top tier colleges report around 15 sexual assaults on campus over a two year time period. While some people may argue that colleges are not necessarily honest about the sexual assault numbers they report, an important thing to note is that people are actually reporting their sexual assaults to their colleges and universities. The numbers that the colleges publish, are the number of crimes reported to the institution. Higher rape reports means more victims are finding a voice, and speaking up to the institutions administrators, as well as working to have justice brought upon their assailants.

A major consequence of sexual violence is silence, as many victims do not feel like they can speak out about their assault, and when they do, they are at times thought to be lying, and ultimately do not receive help or justice. However, the Clery Act gives sexual assault the attention it needs in order for change to happen on campuses.

Clery Act Campaign image from http://knowyourix.org/i-want-to/spread-the-word/
Clery Act campaign poster advocating for colleges to take action in helping prevent sexual assault on campuses. (Photo from Know Your IX http://knowyourix.org/i-want-to/spread-the-word/)

It saddens me to know that going to college does not grant me safety or protection. It worries me to think of what could happen to me or any of my friends.

According to One in Four:  “in one year 300,000 college women, over 5% of women enrolled in colleges and universities, experience rape.“

What does that mean for me as a college applicant? Could I become another statistic?

The numbers and statistics available online dishearten me.

When I go to college I want to know that my friends will have my back, that they won’t take advantage of me, and that my school will stand behind me if anything were to happen.

Everyday I think about feminism and how it pertains to my world and my daily life. I think about the media, I think about politics, I think about my sisters and my friends, I think about rape and assault, street harassment, and other forms of gender-based violence.

Feminism plays a role in the decisions I make about all parts of my life, and now it is playing a role in shaping my future as I decide on the right college. While I will know I will enjoy my time at college and will begin a new chapter in my life, the current issue of college campus rape is all too real. Because of the media attention, an issue as scary as rape on college campuses has come to my attention. And as hard as I try, I know that when I enter college as a freshman in the fall of 2015, the statistic that 1 in 4 women are be raped in their lifetime will be in the back of my mind.

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