Reminder on Consent and Sexual Assault
Content warning: This article mentions sexual assault, rape, sexual abuse, substance use, suicidal ideation, and domestic violence. Reader discretion is advised. If you or a loved one are in crisis, please call RAINN’s hotline (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) 800-656-4673. This article is not to be substituted for professional medical advice.
We are a little over halfway into this academic year. The campus has been back in-person and people have been eager to return to what the traditional college experience is. This year’s incoming freshmen are especially excited to be the first class in a couple of years to enter college while the pandemic is in decline. People are overjoyed to see each other again, and some are more than overjoyed. Sorry, Southwestern parents…but, pre-marital sex happens, and leaving home for the first time makes some freshmen a little giddy for the opportunity. With Texas being a state that does not require comprehensive sex education in high school and the home of a majority of Southwestern’s population, it’s important for them to be informed about safe and consensual sex practices rather than scare tactics, right? I sure think so. However, many public high schools in Texas do not even have any sort of sex education class. And if they do, it is most likely to be an abstinent-only one, in which it would be unlikely that consent would be taught in the class. So, let’s talk about sex. More specifically, about consent.
So, let’s start with the basics. What is consent? According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), consent is, “An agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” Consent is great, like french fries! So you can remember this acronym “F.R.I.E.S.,” when thinking about consent: “F,” for freely given, meaning that people engaging in sexual activity are not being pressured into it; “R,” for reversible, meaning that a person can change their mind during sex and not wish to engage in the sexual activity anymore; “I,” for informed, meaning that all participants were sober and any birth control methods to be used/not used were discussed before sex started; “E,” for enthusiastic, meaning that all participants are excited to have sex; and “S,” for specific, meaning that consent was given for specific sexual acts. Thank you Planned Parenthood for that nifty way to remember it! Unfortunately, there are sexual situations in which consent was not given. This is sexual assault.
What is sexual assault? According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), “The term sexual assault refers to sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the victim. Some forms of sexual assault include; attempted rape, fondling or unwanted sexual touching, forcing a victim to perform sexual acts (such as oral sex or penetrating the perpetrator’s body), and penetration of the victim’s body, also known as rape.” Sexual assault is traumatic, and unfortunately, common in the United States, per the CDC.
To understand how prevalent sexual assault is nationally, let’s look at some statistics. Nearly every minute, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. People in their teens through their thirties are the most vulnerable. College-aged women are the most likely to be assaulted within this age range. 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Only around 28% of survivors of sexual assault report. LGBT+ people are 50% more likely to be a victim of sexual assault according to RAINN, NVRSC, and Center for Family Justice. And this is just the data we know about what is reported.
There are some populations that are at a higher risk for sexual assault, and this includes Native American women, prisoners, and members of the military. Native Americans are twice as likely than any other demographic to be a victim of rape. More than half of women who were raped in prison were assaulted by authority members of the prison. Nearly 6% of women in the military were assaulted (RAINN).
Sexual assault often causes devastating effects to survivors. More than ninety percent of survivors develop post-traumatic stress disorder, more than thirty percent of women who were raped have suicidal thoughts, and thirteen percent of women who were raped attempt suicide. It can take years for survivors to recover. Survivors are likely to use drugs to cope. More than half of the family and friends of survivors experience moderate or severe distress in supporting the survivor, according to RAINN.
Sexual assault largely goes unreported. False allegations only make up two to eight percent of all cases (NVRSC). Some barriers to reporting are that some people blame the victim, some legal enforcement does not believe people who report, and people do not have the financial resources to go through a court case in pressing charges against their assaulter. Sometimes, people victim-blame. This means blaming the victim for the violence that was acted upon them. Common excuses for rape are blaming what the victim was wearing, as some people (incorrectly) believe that what the person was wearing tempted the perpetrator into assaulting them. Another one is blaming the victim for drinking or using drugs. Additionally, there are sometimes excuses made for people who are into relationships, as some people believe that people are in relationships are expected to provide sex on demand. This is a muddier area, but there is no excuse for rape. Rapists are the sole cause of sexual assault.
There are also legal barriers to reporting, making sexual assault an even muddier process for victims. Only about thirty percent of survivors of sexual assault report, and this is because some legal enforcement units do not believe people who report, with some police officers being perpetrators themselves. For people who do report, some cannot go through with a court case because of the fees of a lawyer. In the court case itself, the victim is forced to relive their traumatic experience and be forced to extract the details from it, which some people avoid reporting because they do not want to have this experience. On top of this, many forensic pieces of evidence, such as rape kits, can become backlogged, in which police units do not test the DNA that is tested in the rape kits (RAINN).
When looking at the perpetrators of sexual assault, the majority of crime is committed by white men over the age of thirty years old and older. There is the myth that most rapists are random men that jump out from behind a tree or a dumpster in dark public spaces at night and rape women. While this does happen, most victims know their assaulter. This is sometimes referred to as “date rape.” According to RAINN, “Eight out of ten rapes are committed by a person known to the victim.” The majority of perpetrators have a history of sexism towards women. Most rapists spend less than three years in jail.
Men can help and have a responsibility in being an active bystander. Men can call out their friends if they are being sexist. Men can intervene when they see other men start to act in a pushy or predatory way towards women. There are ways to help women, (the majority of sexual assault victims) feel safe in their environment.
This article is not meant to scare people into thinking there are sexual predators lurking everywhere, or that there are hundreds of predators lurking on Southwestern’s campus, but it is instead meant to teachlearn about the magnitude of sexual assault. Learning about consent and sexual assault is very important, especially for college students.
There are many resources available to survivors of sexual assault. At Southwestern, “Anyone can report incidents of sexual misconduct to the University by contacting the Title IX Coordinator at 512-863-1111, SUPD at 512-863-1944 or the Dean of Students at 512-863-1624. Talking to any responsible employee (all Resident Assistants, all faculty and staff) also initiates the reporting process, as those individuals are required to share your report with the Dean of Students,” per Southwestern’s sexual misconduct webpage. Other resources include: The SAFE Alliance: Stop Abuse For Everyone (Austin): 512-267-7233, Williamson County Crisis Center/Hope Alliance (24/7): 800-460-SAFE (7233), RAINN: Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network: 800-656-HOPE (4673), National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233, and TAASA: Texas Association Against Sexual Assault: 512-474-7190.3
I was never a freshman at Southwestern. I transferred to Southwestern as a sophomore, so I do not know the specifics of how consent is taught here. Regardless, I hope this article can be clarifying for those who may have had questions about what qualifies as consent, sexual assault, etc. Though this article is aimed at first year students, it’s not just freshmen that can learn about consent. Anyone at any age can learn more about consent. I learn more about it every time I volunteer at the domestic violence & sexual violence center that I volunteer at. If you feel passionate about ending domestic and sexual violence, there are shelters in the Austin-area that you can volunteer at. Learning about consent and helping survivors benefits everyone.