Over the last few weeks, a highly-publicized case of NFL player Ray Rice became a flashpoint to address issues of violence against women. However, sexual assault and domestic violence are far from being a new issue. CDC studies from 2007 (to most recently in 2012) indicate that 1 in 5 women experience rape at some point in their lifetimes, with the bulk of the responses reporting it happened in their teens and twenties.
With those age statistics in mind, it makes sense that one of the primary focuses for activist and lawmakers is sexual assault on college campuses. The issue has even reached as far as the White House. President Obama gave an address on Friday, Sept. 19 during which he explicitly stated, “Campus sexual assault is something we as a nation can no longer turn away from, and say ‘That’s not our problem.’”
The President also announced the creation of the “It’s On Us” campaign, reaching out to young men in the process of reporting and preventing violence and sexual assault. (More information of the Campaign at SJU can be found on St. John’s Central page.)
The fact that the federal government feels the need to step in and create a program to address this problem speaks loudly to where we are at as men in America today. As a man, it shows me that our society has subtly programmed all of us to value macho-ism, ego, masculinity and appearing strong over our respect for women. For a lot of young men, it seems their manhood is tied in the number of women they can get with. While this is obviously not true for all men, the fact that this idea has been almost universally accepted and portrayed in our popular culture makes it a rather startling cultural norm.
Now, I am not condemning having fun, as long as everything remains consensual. College is a great time full of fun and exploration, sexuality included. I am not bashing any consensual activities people wish to partake. The key word being consensual, meaning both parties are clear on what they want, and actively agreeing to continue. Getting drunk is not consenting; wearing a sexy outfit is not consenting.
Guys, the fact is the majority of you would never be violent or sexually abusive towards a woman. However, by not speaking up when we see certain behaviors go on, by using certain verbiage and letting it slide when your friends do, you are subtly contributing to the culture that allows for that 1-in-5 stat to remain a reality. Don’t believe me? Spend one (sober) evening at certain events or at one of the lovely establishments near campus and see what you notice.
Do we all, as men, really care about our own social standing, not wanting to be seen as a jerk, or ruining your friend’s night more than the potential safety and health of the women around us? If that’s the case, perhaps you should rethink what manhood is. My challenge for you is this; educate yourself on these issues. Sexual assault is not just an issue for women; it’s an issue for us all as human beings. Check out some of the resources listed below and then later, if needed. Be man enough to speak out.
On being a bystander (and how to intervene and not be)
On consent (What it is and how to make sure all parties have it)