It's Time To Talk About It: Campus Sexual Assault
On a warm day this past spring, I waited in a line that wrapped around my university's athletic center well into the parking lot. For over an hour, students excitedly checked their bags for the bright red tickets that had been distributed by the student government (some even bribing roommates to find their forgotten ticket in their dorms). During that hour, I primarily overheard conversations about Lady Gaga, who would be performing at school later that day.
"What do you think she'll be wearing? How many songs will she be performing? Will we be close to the stage? Do you think she brought a guest?"
By the time I reached the entrance, those conversations were met with eye rolls from event volunteers. Inside, the room was lined with red, white, & blue, and a massive American flag was the backdrop to the stage.
Those who had chosen to believe this was a concert were quickly corrected when two young women stepped on stage. They were not there to introduce a celebrity or pump up the crowd; they were there to tell the heart wrenching tales of how they had been sexually assaulted.
This rally was a part of the White House's It's On Us campaign, led by Vice President Joe Biden, which raises awareness about campus sexual assault. The vice president would speak later with Lady Gaga as his guest. You may remember the duo teaming up earlier this year at the Oscars, where they urged the public to intervene whenever consent is not, or cannot, be given.
It's On Us is not just nice. It is necessary. While in college, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted. Even more staggering, only 13% of those people will end up reporting the incident.
Those numbers are unacceptable. No one should ever be forced to endure such an unthinkable act under any circumstances. No one deserves it. It's not cool, or manly, or a way to gain respect. It's a power play. It's a way for someone to gain control over another human being in the most disgusting way possible.
The emotional, physical, and psychological effects that victims are left to deal with are too much for any one person to have to work through alone, especially when old-fashioned stigmas regarding sexual assault have yet to break down. There is a tendency to blame the victim for what has happened to them, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. When this campaign was launched in 2014, President Obama said it best:
"For anybody whose once-normal, everyday life was suddenly shattered by an act of sexual violence, the trauma, the terror can shadow you long after one horrible attack. It lingers when you don't know where to go or who to turn to. It's there when you're forced to sit in the same class or stay in the same dorm with the person who raped you; when people are more suspicious of what you were wearing or what you were drinking, as if it's your fault, not the fault of the person who assaulted you. It's a haunting presence when the very people entrusted with your welfare fail to protect you."
While the efforts of this campaign will likely never completely end sexual assault, they are starting a dialogue. Victims are finally being recognized by national leaders, giving them the courage to stand up against their attackers, just like the two girls I listened to on that spring day.
As we start the second month of the school year and a new season, and walk towards a new year, I urge you to go to itsonus.org and sign the pledge, stating that you will be a part of the solution, not the problem. If you see something, say something. Find help for people who may not be able to help themselves. And if you have been affected by sexual assault, know that we're all rooting for you.