Why we need to have more dialogue about sexual assault

Wake Forest should continue to address how this problem affects our community specifically

Turn on the television and ISIS, warfare, immigration and guns are the hot-button, controversial issues the media and national politicians always bicker about. But an unfortunately common problem Americans — specifically college students — should also address is the plague of sexual assault.

It turns out the most common violent crime on campuses happens in our own bedrooms, caused by our very own student culture, yet hardly any perpetrators are punished.

1 in 4 college women will be a victim of sexual assault during their college career yet 98% of those perpetrators will never step foot in jail.

Like any other university, Wake Forest is not immune. One cause: party culture.

The “work hard, play hard” mentality often leads to heavy drinking on the weekends, particularly in Greek life, which makes up the majority of the campus party culture. According to the Huffington Post, 75% of fraternity members engage in heavy drinking versus 49% of their non-fraternity peers, while 62% of sorority members engage in it versus 41% of non-sorority students.

“There is a lot of pressure on people to hook up with others or to perform or impress their peers that comes with being in a group of highly competitive people,” sophomore Rose O’Brien said. “A lot of Greek life is gender-separated which makes it difficult to have conversation and to see men and women in equal light, so the only time they interact is on the weekends.”

Rose O’Brien

Historically, not many perpetrators have been punished for sexual violence, which makes sense: sexual assault is an issue that is, for the most part, tied to student culture. It’s our peers who commit the crimes, and it’s our peers who can lead conversations that change how we perceive victims.

Often, many assault victims do not come forward because society does not accept or believe them as a whole — victims might worry about how people will react, what people will say, or if will be the one blamed. Often, victims believe bystanders indirectly blame them for their situation after consuming too much alcohol, choosing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or just spending time with a stranger. However, none of these factors give someone else the right to violate another person’s body.

While rape is certainly a national problem, Wake Forest should continue to address how this problem affects our community specifically. While Greek life contributes positive things to this campus, like anything, it also has its detriments, including its contribution to the party culture from which sexual violence so often stems.

“I do not think men talk about these topics among themselves,” O’Brien said. “That is understandable since there is so much pressure to act a certain way. I know fraternities have books of how many girls they want to hook up with and I have heard of freshmen dorms where guys have lists on their doors of how many girls they want to hook up with on the weekend. It is a highly pressurized environment.”

A discussion group at Trailblaze 2015

Both men and women contribute to this type of behavior, and most people (Greek or non-Greek) do not commit assault. The root of the problem is the silence of the victims after. Over the past five years, an average of 68% of assaults were not reported. To stop this and to prevent further instances, what we need is dialogue.

Beth Montplaisir, the coordinator of the SAFE office encourages students to have conversations. “If a friend comes to you and shares that they have experienced sexual violence, believe them,” she said. “Tell them it is not their fault and empower them to make choices. Let them know about the resources available to them.”

Resources like PREPARE and Trailblaze encourage community dialogue and the Safe Office provides 24/7 confidential crisis response and support services. Both, but particularly Trailblaze, discuss the root of why these problems happen — patriarchy, heteropatriarchy and party culture.

Prepare’s annual “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” week raises awareness about sexual assault

Let’s talk about how assault may affect us as Americans, but let’s also talk about how it affects us as a community, as peers: our conversations about party culture, our transportation system to and from parties and our behavior on social media like YikYak and Twitter will help de-stigmatize the problem if we create an open forum.

After all, we must be the ones to lead conversation about campus culture — we know it best and we can be the ones to change the aspects that haunt us the most.

“Sexualized violence is a complex problem that affects all of us,” Montplaisir said. “But each person can assist in fostering a culture at WFU where harassment, discrimination, and gender bias do not exist.”

Wake Forest