By Ari Eisen, JWI
My freshman year in college there was a serial rapist on campus who committed six assaults, including two rapes. He was never caught. So I learned early on never to walk alone at night.
My sophomore year I experienced firsthand people drugging my friends at parties in order to take advantage of them. So I learned never to drink anything that was not mine – even if a friend poured it.
My junior year I studied abroad, and there were six incidents of sexual assault on campus by the same perpetrator who was, again, never caught. So I learned that this problem not only crosses state lines, but international borders.
I will be a senior this year. And I have never been more afraid to be a woman on a college campus.
I expected drinking and drugs. I expected pressure to look sexy and have sex. But I never expected the extent to which this massive cultural crisis would be relevant to my life. Indeed, the root of this problem is, undoubtedly, cultural. In preparation for college, girls are taught don’t walk alone at night, do not drink anything you did not see poured, do not dress promiscuously… The list goes on and on.
But these victim-focused statements are completely misguided. Sure, they aim to address the problem, but how about targeting the perpetrator? It’s called prevention. We should be teaching: drugging someone against their will is always wrong, attacking women when they are alone and vulnerable is a crime punishable by prison, the way a woman dresses is not any indication of her sexual availability. And while you may think these statements are obvious — to your friends, your kids, your classmates — from my experience on two college campuses, they most certainly are not.
This widespread societal problem is perpetuated by the media and popular culture. Celebrities, the music industry, athletes and commercial advertisements are messaging male entitlement and the objectification of women. They are tacitly condoning and even promoting behaviors that are certainly classified as gender-based violence and sexual assault.
Gender-based violence, specifically sexual assault on college campuses, is an epidemic – and yet it is the most underreported crime nationwide. JWI’s advocacy team and I participated in a series of three roundtable discussions aimed at addressing sexual assault on America’s college campuses. These sessions, facilitated by Senator Claire McCaskill and attended by Senators Tammy Baldwin and Richard Blumenthal, focused on the challenges surrounding the implementation of the Clery Act and the Campus SaVE Act. These acts require the annual collection and dissemination of statistics regarding crime (sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking) on campuses across the country. The roundtables also included an extensive discussion on victims’ rights under Title IX and how the criminal justice system can more effectively help victims and strengthen enforcement.
In coordination with the White House Not Alone campaign, these roundtables—and the movement’s mass of advocates and supporters—are finally bringing crimes of sexual assault on college campuses to the forefront of the conversation, and instilling in this country a sense of urgency that cannot be underplayed. The violence must end now.
One of the ways in which JWI works to address sexual assault on college campuses is through our Safe Smart Dating program. Safe Smart Dating is an innovative workshop that helps college students define, identify, and prevent dating abuse and sexual violence on campus.
I am proud to be part of an organization that is actively pursuing justice to repair this broken system, and am hopeful that the women just beginning their journeys through college will be able to feel safe, secure and confident in pursuing their academic and professional goals.