Social activism addresses sexual assault on campus

Too often, statistics regarding sexual assault on college campuses are ignored. Perhaps this is because the consequences of their reality are horrifying. The New York Times reported that in 2015 “more than one-fourth of undergraduate women at a large group of leading universities said they had been sexually assaulted.”

The problem seems to be worsening at elite universities such as the University of Michigan, where 34 percent of female seniors experienced nonconsensual sexual contact, followed by 32 percent at Yale and 29 percent at Harvard. These numbers are unacceptable and it seems that sexual violence has become a normalcy among female students, as opposed to a rare atrocity.

Arguments have been made that the statistics surrounding this issue are “notoriously unreliable” or “inconsistent,” but these claims are dubious. The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” Picking apart ratios and percentages based on what kind of assault the female endured is not only insensitive, but it also has no bearing on the concern at hand. It does not erase the fact that women across the country are being threatened by sexual violence. Furthermore, there should be a presumed moral standard that any type of nonconsensual sexual action is unacceptable.

To combat the ignorant attitude regarding sexual assault, social media campaigns in the past few years have informed many and allowed for important dialogue. Not only have these crusades raised awareness, but they have also given women the courage to speak about their personal experiences with the issue. There has been a plethora of successful YouTube videos, Twitter hashtags and Facebook campaigns. Many students and organizations have been taking actions through social media to try and create increased awareness.

One recent campaign by students at Duke University went viral on Facebook. The page titled “Breaking Out” featured student survivors of sexual violence. There was a photo exhibit that pictured survivors with posters featuring quotations that illustrated their stories concerning sexual violence. The images were powerful, and those who participated displayed great courage. The campaign also inspired many other college students to speak out against this injustice.

This is important because, as Generation Progress reports, “Nine out of 10 assaults are committed by repeat offenders” and “the incidents begin in semi-public spaces like parties or dorm rooms.” This proves that sexual assault is not an unstoppable anomaly, but an issue that can be diminished if all students and faculty on campuses work together.

Here at Geneseo, students took action by participating in Sexual Assault Awareness Week from April 11–16. This included awareness events such as discussions regarding sexual harassment, a vigil, a Take Back the Night march, poetry readings and a multitude of speakers who discussed Geneseo’s sexual assault policy. The Women’s Action Coalition also utilizes social media by sharing photos and events on Facebook in order to reach a wide range of students.

Speaking out against this injustice is imperative, and our generation can use social media as a tool to have our voices heard. Instead of hiding from the statistics that scare parents as they send their daughter off to college, we need to embrace them. Acknowledging that sexual assault is not only present, but also rampant on college campuses is necessary. Here at Geneseo, we need to work together in hopes that one day we can truly “take back the night.”