Changing how we approach sexual violence on campus

Last Monday, Luther released its annual security report for 2018, and those who were willing to scroll all the way to page 24 of the 59 page document noticed an increase in reported rape, stalking, and dating violence incidents from the previous year. Whether this change is the result of an actual increase in the number of sexual offenses committed at Luther or the result of survivors feeling more compelled to come forward is a question that lingers in my mind, although I’m not certain it has a straightforward answer.

I assume everyone on this campus has heard the phrase “Yes means yes, no means no,” has a basic understanding of the concept of consent, and hopefully realizes that victims of sexual violence do not compel their attackers to harm them in any way. The security report also lists a number of ways the college tries to prevent sexual violence, such as the online “Think About It” substance abuse and sexual violence training program, bystander and escalation workshops, and “The Luther Way,” a theatrical presentation about topics like consent and healthy relationships. While I appreciate the college for trying to address sexual violence in some way, this obviously doesn’t resonate with students. So what will?

Generally speaking, I don’t think Luther students actually want to hurt each other or violate anyone’s autonomy. But it still happens, and as a community we should be more proactive about our approach to preventing sexual violence. It’s great to reduce the number of obstacles students encounter when reporting sexual violence and provide resources on and off campus for support in the aftermath of these crimes, but it would be more ideal to foster an environment where instances of rape, stalking, and dating violence do not happen in the first place. Sexual violence is a much larger global phenomenon than simply an issue on college campuses.  I do not have an answer when it comes to the most effective way to combat deeply ingrained cultural beliefs about who “deserves” full sexual autonomy and who does not. However, perhaps giving an equal amount of attention to groups who are among the most victimized and receive the least amount of discussion and support is a potential starting point.

According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN),  21% of transgender, genderqueer, and gender-nonconforming college students have been sexually assaulted. Women of color are assaulted at higher rates than white women, and the violent victimization rate for people with disabilities is almost twice as high as the rate for people without disabilities. Like all other instances of injustice, the issue of sexual violence impacts people differently according to their gender, sexuality, race, class, and a variety of other factors. Ideally, it would be enough to say sexual violence is wrong and call it a day. But until Luther begins to contend with sexual violence as an intersectional issue, the security report will continue to display numbers other than zero under the forcible sex offenses category.

As a senior, I am well aware of a number of sexual assaults and instances of sexual harassment on campus that have gone unreported. I am tired of sitting in classes with individuals who have assaulted friends, acquaintances, or other members of the Luther community and have gone on to face absolutely no consequences for their behavior, either in an official legal capacity or socially. Everyone on this campus has a responsibility to treat each other with respect and an appreciation for each other’s humanity. Please take it seriously.

Opinions expressed in columns and letters are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Chips or organizations with which the author(s) are associated.

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