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2017 Duffy Law Scholarship WinnerKatelyn Doolittle – 2017 Scholarship Essay Contest Winner

“What are the three most important things America’s colleges and universities can do to significantly reduce the incidence of sexual assault on campus – and why?”

Written by Katelyn Doolittle

College is an exciting time. It is the period in life when young people can stretch their wings and experience independence, develop lifelong relationships, discover new cultural and political perspectives, and gain the skills and education that will ultimately prepare them for a career they will have the rest of their lives. Those moments when new freshmen arrive on campus for the first time are unforgettable, filled with excitement over different living conditions, emotional goodbyes to family, and anxious but hopeful thoughts to the future (“Did I choose the right major? Will I meet my future spouse here? I hope I don’t gain the freshman 15!”). What no one wonders is, “Will I be sexually assaulted?” and yet the sad reality is, one in five women will be sexually assaulted at one point during their college experience, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. This abhorrently large number illustrates the fact that American colleges and universities are currently failing students when it comes to safety from sexual assault. Drastic measures must be taken if this figure is to ever be reduced. Three actions colleges and universities can take to accomplish this would be to 1) start a peer-led educational program which campaigns the facts regarding sexual assault on college campuses, 2) establish on-campus sites designed for the sole purpose of reporting sexual assault and 3) abolish Greek life on college and university campuses.

In 2012, Baker University, a small, private liberal arts college in Kansas, started a program known as BRâV (Baker Rallies against Violence), a peer-led organization with the goal of educating fellow students to the realities of sexual assault on college campuses. This author was proud to be one of the founding members and first peer educators of BRâV. Throughout the year, presentations were given to other student groups, clubs, and sports teams that sought to first, debunk the myths surrounding sexual assault, and secondly, instill the strategies and skills necessary for recognizing a potential sexual assault, intervening during a sexual assault, and coping with/comforting someone who was sexually assaulted. By the end of a single year, hundreds of student signatures vowing to take a stand against sexual violence were received because of BRâV, a stellar testament to the fact that simple education is often the solution to complex issues. This was evidenced by the masses of students who reported learning something they did not know before, such as that in Kansas, “consent” cannot be given under the influence of alcohol. Without such education, perpetrators of sexual assault can claim ignorance to their actions, and the violent trend persists. Every college and university in America should establish an organization such as BRâV, as it promotes a thoroughly enlightened and empathetic student population to the issue of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is a unique crime in that it is tremendously personal, and thus to report it, victims are subjugated to invasive procedures and uncomfortable questions. As a result, more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the crime, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Using deductive reasoning, this means that 90% of perpetrators of sexual assault experience zero consequences and are free (and likely) to commit the crime again. If the goal is to reduce the number of sexual assault crimes on college campuses, then public shame must be put on those who would commit such a heinous act, and this only happens by reporting the crime in the first place. Therefore colleges and universities must establish safe and judgment-free spaces for victims to report an incident. This could be a hotline, clinic, or counseling center, unlike the ones intended for the general student population, but rather created specifically for victims of sexual assault and staffed with personnel trained to deal with such a crime, 24 hours a day. The idea is to create a space that makes it convenient to report sexual assault, where it was not convenient before, thus shaming rapists when they were not shamed before, and in doing so prevent the number of sexual assault cases that might have occurred.

Finally, if the incidence of sexual assault is to be significantly reduced on college campuses, then the major source of where the sexual assaults occur must be eliminated: Greek houses. This is admittedly a controversial action; naysayers will claim that Greek life is a staple of the college experience, teaching generations of young men and women the rules of propriety while promoting a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood, and encouraging community involvement through service, etc., etc., etc. Perhaps this is what Greek life once did for American universities, but evidence suggests that, when it comes to Greek life today, far more trouble comes out of it than the good, especially on the matter of sexual assault. According to FraternityAdvisors.org, men in a fraternity are at a 300% greater risk for committing sexual assault due to their alcohol consumption, which is over 25% higher in fraternities compared to other male students. Research published in the journal Sex Roles showed that individual fraternity men are more likely to display racy, objectifying images of women in their rooms and have supportive attitudes about getting girls drunk in order to have sex with them, thus promoting rape culture. Sororities are not exempt either. According to the National Institute of Justice, nearly a quarter of college sexual assault victims are sorority members. There is no shortage of research and statistics to conclude that if colleges and universities want to make significant reductions on sexual assault, the place to start is Greek life. If the source of an epidemic is eliminated, then the problem will cease to be an epidemic.

Yet, that is what sexual assault on college campuses remains—an epidemic. This is why it is imperative for universities and colleges to adopt the above actions in order to make a significant change. A freshman should not have to wonder “Will I be sexually assaulted?” on her first day of college. Her thoughts should be free of such worry, and directed towards the awesome journey that is college, the journey of becoming the person she is meant to be. Colleges and universities must make these changes to ensure that person is never a victim of sexual assault.

 

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