Alright. It’s time we got into a serious discussion about one of the most taboo topics on college campuses: sexual assault. This discussion comes in the wake of the recent (and justified) uproar over last week’s article printed in The Amherst Student, Amherst College’s student-run newspaper, in which rape survivor Angie Epifano discussed her horrifying experience and the atrocious way in which Amherst’s administration responded to the assault. It can be read here. It has also been reprinted here at In the ‘Cac after the Amherst site crashed due to the large number of hits the article received. For those that have not read the account, I highly recommend reading it in its entirety, although be warned, it is NSFW for those who are highly sensitive to the issues described.
It would be too easy to respond to this case by describing it as an isolated incident, but college students can only live in ignorance of these issues for so long. Sexual assault is very real and unfortunately, quite rampant across college campuses; statistically, one in four women are raped by graduation; the number of adult men who are sexually assaulted is a number significantly harder to track. But I do not intend to spew statistics in your face. The fact remains that sexual assault is a major issue on college campuses and that this needs to come to an end right now.
Angie’s story is not only common due to the frequent nature of assaults, but the Administration’s response is also fairly standard. After all, what school wants to advertise themselves as a site for wanton rape and misogyny? Apparently, rape survivors are easier to sweep under the rug than the tarnished image on college brochures.
Either way, no matter the consequences of sexual assault on college campuses, it must be a combined effort between the Administration and students to change the rhetoric in which sexual assault exists.
Stop Calling Rape A “Women’s” Issue
A common fault of many nay-sayers, including the Amherst Administration and staunchly conservative Republican candidates, is treating sexual assault as if it is a problem reserved only for women. There are a few things wrong with this: 1) calling rape a “women’s” problem implies that it is a trifle that only women can find important because women are oh so silly, (as in, “Hey, I ran out of lipstick! This is a women’s problem!” or “Does anyone have any tampons I can use?”) 2) it completely ignores men who are victims of sexual assault, and 3) most importantly, it provides men with an excuse to not take sexual assault seriously.
In regard to my third point, it’s crucial that we stop naming sexual assault a pesky women’s problem and instead recognize it as a human problem. There is no denying that most sexual assault victims are women and the vast majority of offenders are male. That undeniable truth does not suggest a women’s problem if men are primarily the guilty party.
However, the mistake people make is taking the unfortunate reality of these statistics and turning it into a male vs. female fight. The worst thing we can do to combat sexual assault is to isolate men from women and play the blame game. If there is any hope for an end to sexual assault, it is up to both men and women to unite and address the issue as fellow human beings.
End Slut Shaming
I don’t mean to extend my quota for making Mean Girls references for the second time this week, but Tina Fey has a great line near the end of the movie: “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”
Slut shaming goes hand in hand with sexual assault because it suggests disgrace and disdain for female sexuality. Of course, slut shaming could hardly exist without the double standard in which it’s totally socially acceptable for guys to sleep around, but if a girl does it, she must be some sort of prostitute or something, or maybe her parents just didn’t raise her right. What a terrible person!
I’m sure we’re all familiar with this sexual double standard, but despite its relentless beating into our brains, we still take part in it and endorse it. We very rarely ask ourselves, what makes certain women sluts? Why do we call people that? Is it how many people they sleep with? How often they have sex? If they have one or more one-night stands? If they lack self-respect? If they have sex for the “wrong” reasons? Can a man be slut?
We don’t try to define what “slut” means because in the end, there is no meaning whatsoever: it’s a word thrown around by men and women alike that has absolutely no validity in defining human beings, no matter who they are or what they do.
Slut shaming goes hand-in-hand with sexual assault because of the very personal nature of these attacks; one of the major reasons most rapes go unreported is the fear and shame that goes along with the feeling of sexual victimization. And this does not come from just student rhetoric: the Administration’s response to Angie’s attack is very much institutional slut shaming, given that they provided no helpful response or support for her case.
When it comes down to it, slut shaming is just another excuse to marginalize sexual assault survivors and attempt to sweep these issues under the rug. This is completely unacceptable.
We Must Learn To Communicate
Ultimately, we must learn to honestly and effectively communicate issues related to gender inequality and sexual assault. Ignoring a problem simply doesn’t make it go away; on the contrary, problems grow cancerously until it encapsulates and corrupts our campus culture. Continuing to ignore, beat down, and blame the victim in cases of sexual assault doesn’t do anybody any favors. Yes, this is a highly sensitive issue due to the personal nature of these attacks and the implications of our larger society, namely, that it’s not a big deal. This is incorrect. Sexual assault is a big deal, and if we’re going to effectively end it, we must face it head on.