When the topic of rape surfaces, many college students shy away from it. The word carries explicitly violent imagery—something that is objectively unpleasant to talk about. Although the stigma around sexual assault is slowly decreasing and sufferers of rape are increasingly sharing their experiences, the topic is still avoided by many students. This is not just because of its inherently unpleasant nature, but also for a far more mundane reason: its increasing cultural ubiquity.
We hear stories about rape and sexual assault occurring on college campuses all the time now. The topic of sexual assault has become a sort of fly in the face of students, and our instinct is to swat it away. It’s as if the notion of rape has shifted from being taboo to being tabbed boring. It’s something that we just have to hear about, and when we do hear about it, our instinct is not to embrace, but to evade.
Of course, this type of reaction comes from those individuals who have not had experience with rape. Those who have been raped, or have had a friend, family member, or partner raped, understand the need for continued conversation and education about the topic. It’s those of us who have no experience with rape who may be less likely to understand why it is so crucial to keep a seemingly tired topic within earshot of the public.
Often, what constitutes rape, and how it’s different from sexual assault, is blurry to many. The FBI’s definition of rape is fairly straightforward. Rape is a form of sexual assault that specifically involves penetration, although there exist many different types of sexual assault, all of which are unwarranted by the victim and are often violent.
A 2015 study conducted by University of North Dakota psychology professor Sarah Edwards revealed how merely changing the wording regarding unwarranted and/or violent sexual behavior can have a significant impact on our perceptions of such behavior.
After surveying 86 male college students (all of whom were Caucasian), nearly 32 percent of those surveyed said that they would “act on ‘intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse’” if there were no consequences, while 13 percent said they “had ‘intentions to rape a woman’” if there were no consequences.
It appears that there’s a difference in some students’ minds between unwarranted sexual intercourse and rape. The need for continued education couldn’t be more clear.
TU’s Student Advocacy for Violence Education (SAVE) President Emily Farrar continues to call attention to this issue.
“There is not enough education about the subject,” she says. “And when there is education about it a lot of students just roll their eyes and don’t care or understand how important it is.”
This brings to mind Haven, the online sexual assault tutorial that all students must complete in order to enroll. For most students, Haven is more like hell. A tedious, mind-numbing, mouse-clicking hell.
“It’s just another hassle in the grand scheme of things students have to do,” Farrar states. “The videos for Haven are boring. The training is fundamentally okay, but students are annoyed that they’re required to do it.”
Last semester, in order to offer students an alternative educational experience to Haven, the Advocacy Alliance, along with SAVE, offered free bystander intervention training programs to students. They roused next to no interest.
“Ideally, having 10 students per session would be great,” says Farrar. But not even that could be swung. “If we could have just 10 students at a training session with one happening each month, that is 50 students. 50 more students around campus with their eyes peeled and helping their peers. That would be huge, and wonderful.”
About the sessions, Farrar says, “The courses are super interactive, make you think but in a fun way, and are way more educational. Our trainers are fun and non-judgmental. They want to help you understand what is going on and answer any questions. Plus, for the four hour trainings you get an awesome shirt and sometimes free food!”
Sadly, we may just have to resort to food incentives to arouse student interest. In the overwhelming clout of apathy about sexual violence education, however, there is growing hope. “Our attendance at SAVE meetings has grown, and so too has interest,” Farrar comments. “But we should continue this. Learning about these issues, discussing them, and providing [victims] with the best care and love…..we all want to be there for our peers to the best of our ability.”
So put down your fly swatter and trade it in for a T-shirt, because this stuff is important.