By Sidney Murillo
Rape is no joke.
Yet comedian Daniel Tosh suggests that a heckler should be gang raped.
The Internet is awash with rape memes. One on Instagram shows a roofie being broken into a mixed drink with the label “Fastest way out of the friendzone.” Hashtag: “calm your tits.”
The image of a bound and gagged woman carries the caption “It’s not rape. If she didn’t want to, she’d have said something.”
R&B singer Cee Lo Green, accused of drugging a date before sex, tweets: “If someone is passed out, they’re not even WITH you consciously, so WITH implies consent” and “People who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!”
Members of the Yale fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon chant “No means yes and yes means anal” while they march through women’s dorms at night.
Experts call this phenomenon rape culture. And it’s everywhere.
“From sports leagues to pop culture to politics, our society does not sufficiently value women,” President Barack Obama said Friday while announcing the public service campaign “It’s on Us,” aimed at curbing sexual violence on college campuses. “We still don’t condemn sexual assault as loudly as we should.”
Rape culture isn’t about just an act of sexual assault. It describes a society where the acceptance of violence against women is common, said Rachel Wolf, dean of Arts and Communications at Eastfield.
“Rapes occur between people who know each other,” she said. “When you live in a culture that blurs the lines between what is rape and what is consensual sexual interaction, then it makes it easy to live in denial whether or not you are a rapist.”
Fatou Sagna, an accounting major, said it’s unfair that she feels uncomfortable and unsafe just to walk alone.
“I remember back when I was 13 years old. I was at Wal-mart with my sisters and one of the workers just grabbed my hand and asked me if I was married,” she said. “I got scared and I couldn’t even answer back. I just pretended I was on my phone. I ran away. I mean, I was 13 years old.”
One in six American women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape, according to a survey by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Women between the ages of 16 and 20 are at the highest risk, according to the CDC.
This put colleges and universities on the front lines of the battle to prevent sexual violence, and critics say most schools make poor showings. The
Department of Education is investigating 55 colleges on allegations that they mishandled sexual assault reports.
Nearly 20 percent of women attending college have been assaulted, according to a White House task force, but only 12 percent of those women reported cases to authorities. The “It’s on Us” public awareness campaign emerged from the task force’s work.
“We’ve been working on campus sexual assault for several years, but the issue of violence against women is now in the news every day,” Obama said. “We’re getting a better picture of what domestic violence is all about. People are talking about it. Victims are realizing they’re not alone.”
And sexual assault cases don’t occur only at four-year, party-school universities.
On Sept. 4, just eight days after the fall semester began, an 18-year-old student was sexually assaulted on Eastfield’s main campus. Police arrested a college employee in connection with the attack.
Young men fall victim to sexual violence, as well. Southern Methodist University, one of the 55 colleges under federal inquiry, has been sued by a former student who says school officials discouraged him from pressing charges and contacting police after his assault. Another male student was later arrested on sexual assault charges.
Many rape cases hinge on the question of consent. Did he or she say “No”? And is “No” required if someone is drunk or unconscious?
California legislators flipped the standard “No Means No” motto and passed a law on Aug. 28 requiring colleges to define consent as an affirmative agreement between two adults. Thus the new motto: “Yes Mean Yes.”
State Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, said everyone must contribute to ending the problem.
“It is incumbent on men, in particular, to step up and to stand up and to do everything possible to change that culture, a culture that’s quite pervasive on our college campus,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Critics question the bill’s power and suggest that prevalence of rape culture is exaggerated.
Caroline Kitchens, a writer and research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, said “Yes Means Yes” supports a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality.
“The result is a convoluted, one-sided bill that will do little to alleviate the problem of sexual assault,” Kitchens wrote in The National Review. “What it will do is burden universities with increased costs and regulations, exacerbate concerns about due process and further erode the rights of students tried for sex crimes in campus kangaroo courts.”
Dr. Tracy Everbach, a University of North Texas professor who studies and teaches about race and gender in the media, said “Yes Means Yes” is a start. New college students should also be taught how to react if they witness or hear about a sexual assault, she said. Without parents and children openly discussing the issues, the root problems will remain unsolved.
“The society we live in is so full of sex and sexuality,” she said. “I mean look at the advertising industry and the entertainment industry. So much of it is focused on sex and yet a lot of parents are so afraid to talk it to their children. Ultimately, I think this is a cultural problem.”
Wolf said movements like “Yes Means Yes” help because they the standard of consent.
“I think there are different perspectives but the reality for a lot people is that consent is implied if everyone is partying and having a good time. If you are too drunk to say no, that means yes,” she said. “Violence and sexual assaults and rape are things that will keep happening if we don’t change as a culture.”
“It is not just on parents of young women to caution them, it is on the parents of young men to teach them respect for women,” Mr. Obama said. “It is on grown men to set an example and be clear about what it means to be a man.”