Fighting the Uphill Battle
by Ashley Roling
Earlier in the fall, Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education rescinded Obama-era campus sexual assault regulations and proposed mediation between survivors and perpetrators as a resolution. DeVos’ narrative claims that both parties involved must collaborate and bear compromises, ending in forgiveness is understandably damaging and disenfranchising to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault nationwide. Additionally, this restoration of “due process” for the accused further perpetuates the practice of victim-blaming.
Reporting a sexual crime is difficult, personal, vulnerable, and brave. Survivors consider reputation, number of witnesses, measures of substantial evidence, and countless factors in the painful moments, days, and weeks after an assault before reporting. DeVos’s ruling allows schools to move from Obama’s “preponderance of evidence” model to a “clear and convincing standard” of proof. These actions push the idea that the public should continue to be wary of believing survivors. In taking this step, Title IX increasingly reflects the model used in the criminal court, which often regarded as highly taxing experience and nearly impossible to be successful in.
The statistic that one in five women and one in sixteen men will be sexually assaulted during their time in college points to an epidemic of campus sexual assault nationwide. With only 12% of college survivors reporting their assault to police (and an even smaller percentage for incapacitated survivors), rape culture across campuses is seemingly flagrant and leading to slow progression in survivors stepping forward to collect their rights to an equal learning environment.
Sexual assault exists at rampant rates outside of what is reported. To truly tackle the phenomenon at the rate it is occurring, sexual assault needs to be confronted as a human issue, not a survivor’s uphill battle to navigate after the incident. Here’s a few small ways to begin:
Push for university programming that teaches appropriate sexual behavior.
While there are certain actions that may reduce a potential sexual assault from occurring, no sexual assault is entirely “preventable.” Sexual assault implies that one party did not consent. We must change our conversation from discussing what potential victims can do to educating people how to have safe and consensual sex.
Know your campus resources and how to report incidents of sexual assault.
Be familiar with your university and community’s resources for sexual assault survivors. Does your college campus have adequate mental, medical, and legal resources to guide you through the process of reporting and healing? While the statistics are staggering, it is likely to happen to someone you know and it is important to be supplied with whatever resources they may need.
Be an active bystander.
Intervene in situations -in which you feel safe to- where suspicious behavior indicates a sexual assault may occur. Bystander intervention programs exist.
Acknowledge the facts.
The truth is that no one deserves to be sexually exploited or assaulted regardless of race, gender, outfit, age, title, etc. Sexual assaults can occur anytime by anyone regardless of time, occupation, or background. Anytime someone is forced to have sex against their will, they have been sexually assaulted, regardless of whether or not they fought back or explicitly said "no.”
Stop feeding into rape culture.
Rape culture exists in many forms from “boys will be boys” to objectifying a woman’s body. Microaggressions create a public that excuses and justifies sexual assault and should not be tolerated.
But, most importantly, believe anyone that confides in you about an incident of sexual assault. Regardless of Title IX administrators, university policies, police, or government rulings, a survivor should always feel protected and advocated for by someone.