Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Violence Against Women at College? Something to Worry About

By: Allyson Bach, Political Planning and Action Intern at the National Women’s Political Caucus

AI am a college student, a young woman, and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, the most at risk of being raped. Wait, what?

It’s easy to think: “No way, I’m the exception. I play it safe when I go out. I know how to protect myself at parties: I always pour my own drinks, hang with a group, and stay away from the creeps. I’ve stuck to these guidelines and so far, I’ve been just fine. I have nothing to worry about.”

Wrong. I may not have been a victim and I may be lucky enough to never be a victim but that certainly does not suggest that I have “nothing to worry about.”

Sexual assault can happen in many ways; it happens not just physically but technologically and emotionally as well. Over half of all rape and sexual assault victims are females younger than twenty-five but, due to concerns about privacy or being blamed for the assaults, less than 20% of on campus and off campus assaults are even being reported to the police. These victims are our peers, our friends, and our sisters. In fact, the assaulters are no strangers to us either – 84% of raped women admit to knowing their attacker, with 57% of those rapes happening on dates. Yes, these numbers are shocking but this is no time to simply feel sorry for the victims or for ourselves.

What’s worse than pity is society’s blame. “It is YOU who put yourself in that compromising position or YOU are the one who prompted that moment for vulnerability – it is YOUR fault.” It is easier to blame the victim than to acknowledge society’s wrongdoings. Accusations that violence is a direct result of poor decision making and actions feeds into society’s decision to ignore the issue of violence against women by refusing to take responsibility. This ignorance undermines a victim’s chance for rehabilitation since 60% of sexual assault victims report that none of their friends knew how to help them. As friends and sisters of these victims, young women need to take on society’s responsibility in our own communities, which mean our college campuses.

The ignorant are not the blissful; rather, they become the victims. As young females, it’s important to stay informed about the protection from violence that can be available to us. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides such protection for not just women but the entire community and assistance for victims of crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. VAWA was originally passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice since then, once in 2000 and again in 2005. Since its implementation VAWA has provided legal assistance programs for victims and created new programs to meet the emerging needs of communities, including much-needed programs at college campuses, working to prevent violence.

VAWA, unfortunately, expired in 2011. I started my first year in college this past year – my community, my own campus, my peers and I have been left vulnerable for over a year.

I lived in safe dorm. My floor was quiet and never unusually disruptive. I had two residential advisors who both took shifts to patrol the floor to ensure everyone was in safe hands. They made it seem as if we had nothing to worry about. It was a friendly environment, trust filled the air.

Again, according to the Department of Justice, 60% of sexually violent acts against women most often take place in the residence of the victim. Now, looking back, the cavalier atmosphere of my dorm residence may have put me and my peers at a greater risk for sexual assault. The welcoming environment and the naivety of my peers and I would have easily allowed for potential perpetrators to develop friendly relationships with us and put us at a great risk for being assaulted, by allowing access to our own personal living quarters. Statistics from the same study done by the Department of Justice continues on to report that 31% of sexually violent acts takes place in some sort of living quarters, and with women under the age of 25 being the most risk for sexual assault, college dorm rooms may not be as safe as we perceive. 

What is worse is that I wandered at nights going from one fraternity party to another, thinking that I was doing everything right to be safe – that I was just fine. Those were selfish thoughts because even if I ended each night returning back to my dorm room safely, other girls, my very classmates, may not have. Over 10 of rapes on college campuses take place at fraternity houses. In most likelihood, violence against my fellow peers occurred as I carelessly partied the night away.

This ignorance, this hesitation, and this self-blame needs to stop. By reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the critical issues of sexual assault on college campuses will once again be addressed in the limelight. VAWA will require our colleges and universities to record and report dating violence on campus as well as ensure victim’s safety by requiring schools to create plans to enforce protective orders and notify the victim of their rights.

It’s time to voice your concern on your own campus and help reauthorize the bipartisan Senate-passed VAWA.  If we work together, we can stop violence against women.


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