Letter to the Editor: Appreciating Discussions on Consent
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Earlier this fall the juniors and seniors had a seminar on sexual assault. The presenting group came to talk to us last year as well. On their previous visit we listened to a scenario of sexual assault acted out by two members of the group, and then discussed. Then, a victim of sexual assault told her story. This last part was especially moving. I had never experienced two full grades gathered in one room go silent quicker than when everyone realized what her story was about. When I talked to other people about this first visit they were similarly moved, so this year, when it was announced that the same group would be returning, I was surprised at some of the comments I heard from my classmates.
Everyone was complaining; they were saying it was a waste of time, that it was going to be boring. Or they asked if the group came last year why do we need it again? People didn’t think this was necessary.
I can see the rationale behind this: no one thinks they are going to be a rapist, and as they told us in the program, statistically speaking, that’s true. A 2002 study says only 6% of college males have attempted or succeeded in committing a rape. A survey by the American Association of Universities, which looked at 27 of the country’s top colleges, shows a more frightening statistic. Across all the schools 23.7 percent of female undergrads reported having been sexually assaulted. Harvard and Yale were both higher than the survey average reporting 26 and 28%, respectively. Of these cases only 5 to 28% (depending on the school) of serious incidents were reported, students said they wouldn’t report these offenses mostly because sexual assault was not considered serious enough.
These numbers show us why seminars like the one we had are so important. They start a conversation about something which is painful to discuss, but needs to be talked about. Victims aren’t going to start reporting attacks if sexual assault is still seen as shameful for them. And these stigmas aren’t going to change if we collectively write off opportunities to learn about how to handle sexual assault.
One of the presenters at the meeting said something which stuck with me. He said he believes our generation can make a difference. I agree with that. In the news, just in the past couple years, the way sexual assaults are reported has changed. More weight is given to accusers, and assaulters are vilified rather than defended. Colleges now have mandatory seminars, like the one we had, during orientation to educate incoming freshman. These small changes are not going to continue if we don’t have a conversation.
I’m not arguing the discussion we had is going to solve any major problems, or that is was terribly fun, I’m saying it was important. When I heard my classmates’ opinions leading up to the discussion I struggled to understand how anybody who is going to be a college student in the next decade does not think we should be talking about sexual assault. The problem might be not enough people know how big an issue sexual assaults on campus are. That’s why we need programs like this one, we need to be educated about the issues, and we talk about it, no matter how awkward, painful, or boring it is.
Martin Tipton ’17