Low or Zero Reports of Rape on Campus Does Not Mean The School is Safe

95% of colleges say they handle sexual assault cases “appropriately,” but what does this really mean?  

According to the documentary, The Hunting Ground, in 2012, 45% of colleges reported that they had zero incidents of sexual assault and rape. Dr. Gail Stern, a sexual assault educator, comments,“This is statistically impossible. It makes absolutely no sense. It just tells you the level of denial.”

While finding a school with low or no reports of rape may seem positive on the surface, the truth is that it speaks volumes about the injustice and silencing going on within that school’s walls.

Many of these universities avoid reporting actual cases with the intention of maintaining a seemingly safe and clean public image, preventing any negative publicity surrounding their prized school brand, and avoiding any expensive lawsuits. However, universities are not just concerned about maintaining their reputation, their brand, and the money behind their brand, but what their brand promises to deliver.

If a university were to actually admit that they have a rapist on their football team such as Jameis Winston from Florida State University, it would demystify the advertised promise that campuses are a perfect community. This act of covering up the true reality creates an inviting façade for future applicants and indirectly normalizes the quiet acceptance of misogyny and treatment of victims as “lesser-than” humans, while simultaneously desensitizing the community to the gravity of such violence and disrespect.

Furthermore, by remaining silent and inactive, it passively enables this behavior to continue. The concern for maintaining a utopian image over the health and wellbeing of the student body as a whole creates a macro problem instead of a macro solution.

Colleges are places where all young adults, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation or religion, start to define and understand their function and behavior in society. If a college turns a blind eye to this violent behavior, and simultaneously encourages silence from victims and provides a cloak of protection to the assailants, then this becomes a breeding ground for a society that has a tragically weak regard for human life and universal respect for all people.

Football star Jameis Winston from Flordia State University was not charged with the rape of Erica Kinsman and instead went on to be a top pick for the NFL. (photo credit: Getty)

One of the reasons for low reports is that the majority of the victims are not taught how to report these events. Colleges should provide mandatory rape culture education for every semester attended, instead of allowing it to just be a conversation in which one can choose whether to opt in or out of. To report an assault case takes so much bravery and courage, especially in a world in which girls and women are not believed, and are often blamed, criticized, and re-victimized for the outcome.

An example can be found at UNC, where a survivor named Annie Clark was finally able to find out how to report a sexual assault case and when she did, the response she received from the administration was, unfortunately, an all-too-common response for women in our world. Her administrator told her:

“Well… Rape is like football, if you look back on the game, and you’re the quarterback, Annie… is there anything you would have done differently?”

This exemplifies the culture of victim-blaming and further impedes any momentum to obtain healing, justice, and resolution as colleges shame and blame girls for having been drinking or “going out in skirts,” as mentioned in The Hunting Ground.  

Through the response and treatment given to the survivors who come forward, the message women receive is essentially to not trust themselves (or worse, to be more responsible to prevent these things from happening in the first place), and this lack of understanding and perspective bleeds into different aspects of their lives. The loss of control of their body often leads to a general lack of control in life when dealing with the aftermath; these results may vary from anxiety, to depression, paranoia, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, or a complete shutdown mentally and physically.

Another example of the horrific outcome that is experienced when help and action from colleges are unavailable can be seen in Wagatwe Wanjuki’s case. While attending Tufts University in 2008, she was assaulted multiple times by a fellow student, and when she tried to report the assaults to campus authorities, they told her that their legal counsel said they did not have to take action.

Due to her trauma, her ability to focus in class was completely disrupted and her grades began to falter, so much so that she was told she had to withdraw from the university. By indirectly expelling her, the school sent a strong message that instead of finding a solution for her burden, she was now deemed as too below-average to stay.

For a student who at one point had prided herself so much on her intelligence and good grades, and was admitted to the school because of her academic achievements, no help on an academic or psychological level were ever offered and the school took no accountability in their role in the perpetuation of the emotional and physical abuse that Wanjuki endured.

I was lucky enough to speak with Wagatwe Wanjuki in person and hear her story as she visited a rape culture course being held at my school. Here is a selfie our group took with her (photo credit: Wagatwe Wanjuki)

The mistreatment of survivors is not limited to a particular campus; it’s not just something that happens “somewhere else.” This injustice can be found throughout the national college scene, which is why solutions must be both broad and specific, and fully enforceable by all colleges.

The solution cannot solely be taken on by women by teaching them to carry pepper spray, or take self-defense classes, or restrategize their “football game,” or dres conservatively. Rather, the solution must come from a fully intersectional education and awareness that is generously distributed throughout the campus on a monthly basis, amongst many other things.

This solution must be in the hands of the student body, and not just the victim’s body. College administrations should prioritize creating a safe environment for students from all walks of life to feel safe as they engage in their studies. Colleges must teach an incoming generation how to treat all people with respect, and maintain a moral compass that is in alignment with kindness, integrity, and human dignity.

Colleges should encourage the student body to protect each other as a community, and to use the technology that they already use all the time to stay connected when they feel unsafe such as the Circle of 6 Campus Safety app and SafeTrek. There should not be any tolerance of any type of sexual assault.

It is crucial to emphasize the importance of thinking before you speak because one “small” comment can further perpetuate violence against women. Schools must be held accountable and educate people on the truths behind the rape statistics found throughout the college scene.

Additionally, it is important to remember that rape is not just a sexual attack that happens to white women, but something that is experienced by all different types of women, regardless of race,  sexual orientation, and religion. Wanjuki says, “Rape is an act of putting marginalized people in their place.”

Wagatwe Wanjuki, who was expelled from Tufts after her grades declined due to being raped by a student on campus (photo credit: attn)

By not enforcing a firmer attitude towards maintaining safety and protection to the student body, rapists will continue to get away with these crimes, further demonstrating how normal and “okay” our society perceives sexual assault. According to The Hunting Ground, if nothing changes, there is expected to be more than 100, ooo students assaulted in the next year.

While most people aren’t rapists, most people are so willing to protect them and this is a reality that needs to change. We need to engage bystanders so we can work to shift social and cultural norms that currently help to sustain rates of violence while simultaneously working to reduce risk factors for survivors coming forward.

Rapists will continue on through college, free of any punishment or repercussions, while survivors who don’t receive the proper treatment and assistance, will not only fall behind academically, but also fail on a personal and professional level as their sense of worth and confidence is devalued. Their sense of potential will be destroyed thanks to the absolute lack of attention and care given to them from their chosen college.

Survivors endure the scars of injustice within their minds and bodies for the rest of their lives, while rapists can go on to become the top pick for the NFL draft. College administrations must be willing to expel rapists to project to the rest of the world that rape cannot be justified, cannot be excused, and will never be tolerated.


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