The issue of sexual assault is no easy topic to discuss or write on. Yet increasingly, college campuses, federal programs, and private institutions are promoting dialogue, training, and investigation techniques to prevent these assaults.
We cannot begin to combat sexual assault before we eliminate social norms that allow for it. Through word choices, social actions, and the objectification of women, we as a community face an ongoing and very real challenge.
In college life, relationships built are quite possibly as important as anything learned in a classroom. In fact, in a 2011 study published by Institutional Research, 82 percent of 2011 graduates reported that CSB/SJU provided significant support for their academic success, and 90 percent of those same graduates reported having a “good” or “excellent” social experience.
While 90 percent of students report having great social lives in college, sexual assault prevention continues to be one of the institutions’ greatest projects. A possible reason? Most individuals don’t notice some of the everyday words and actions that contribute to sexual assault’s prevalence.
Think first of the many words that are used to describe sex. Most are violent, brutal, and suggest little to the interpersonal relationship between parties involved. Of course, individuals of many genders say these words, so perhaps this is just a part of our simple vocabulary.
But using words that are violent and not suggesting of a mutual encounter, and the fact that sexual assault is a consistent problem for college-age students throughout the United States can be no coincidence. According to statistics accrued by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), only five percent of rapes of college women are reported. Is it possible that the way we treat sex teaches men and women that distinctions between this act and rape are blurry enough to prevent women from speaking about assaults?
Think further on how we, particularly men, instigate social encounters with women. The idea of a “wingman” seems simple and benign, but the notion that a man must have a partner, a second individual, to accomplish the seemingly difficult task of speaking to a woman does two important things. One, it turns a social encounter into a battle by which the man must seek to out-number and out-think the woman, and two, it turns this action into a conquest.
The woman is in fact no longer a woman—but a challenge, a prize. This is quite possibly the greatest issue. If a man does not take time to think of the woman as a person, how can he respect her? This extends further than the “wingman” scheme, and can be seen every weekend in social situations. Of course, not all men do this, and some women partake in the “wingman” strategy of correspondence too.
These terms and actions seem harmless, but these social norms distort human interaction into conquests which can turn into violent encounters and sexual assault.
Sexual assault is a communal problem—not a personal one. It’s simply not enough to avoid these social norms, we must actively seek to be vigilant and eliminate these entrenched structures of aggression. In order to even begin traversing the topic of sexual assault, we must challenge the ways each person speaks and acts.