I had a chance to see The Hunting Ground at the Little— a documentary about rape and sexual assault on American college campuses—and how its occurrence is systematically hidden from the public. This isn't new to me, and I expected an affirmation of what I already knew. But I was quite horrified at the breadth of the problem, and at these women (and some men) who were raped and then ignored by the schools they adore—or worse, blamed for the forceful, uninvited actions of someone else. The cover-up is so pervasive that there is even backlash against victims, accusing them of fabricating sexual assault stories for attention (although the broad consensus is false-rape accusations happen about as much as for other crimes; and that it's simply impossible to acquire accurate statistics.)
The supposed silver lining in the film is about a group of women who have successfully used Title IX—a law designed to offer equal access to education—to force universities to handle all accusations of sexual assault in a fair way, since doing otherwise fosters an environment that encourages sexual assault therefore denying an equal education. It has grown into a movement involving hundreds of universities across the U.S.
After the film, the panel consisted of two RIT representatives: Stacy DeRooy, and Dr. Dawn Meza Soufleris. In the discussion, it was revealed that SUNY Brockport and Hobart & Williams Smith were two local colleges cited in Title IX cases. Since the panel was from RIT, there was a lot of discussion of RIT's actions, but I was unimpressed.
I attended RIT starting in 1988. Although they made efforts to teach responsible sexuality, I wasn't sexually active and didn't seek out guidance. In fact, I tended to avoid it as much as I could. At that age, though, I was definitely a horny animal. And I did make lots of mistakes when approaching the opposite sex. I think the general problem was that I wished to avoid conflict, so I would engage in behaviors that brought me close to the woman I desired but didn't require that I ask permission. This was a very dangerous position to be in, and it was only dumb luck that my circle of friends did not encourage aggressive behavior. If I were encouraged to, say, corner a woman I desired, I think I might have. And while my 19-year-old self wouldn't have raped anyone, I guarantee it would not have been a mentally and sexually healthy experience for the woman.
So I look at it from that perspective: what is RIT doing now to address horny teenaged boys being given advice by their peers that may or may not be true, respectful and healthy? Unfortunately I was only able to ask what RIT is doing today—without the backstory.
Apparently they are complying with the The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (or Clery Act) and reporting crimes. I thought I'd play "prospective student" and see if I could find the report from the RIT website. There was no easy path—in fact, safety and crime were not mentioned on any of the main pages, and only after burrowing through Emergencies to Campus Safety that I found a link to the federal and state compliance documents. Indeed they noted reports of about a dozen sexual assaults each year, making the rate around 0.07% compared to 0.05% for rapes in Rochester (112/210,000 in 2012). Unfortunately, crimes are still filtered through Campus Safety which reinforces a conflict-of-interest. They really should abandon Campus Safety when it comes to handling criminal cases (assault, rape, theft, etc.) and work directly with the police.
They also have a program to encourage "yes means yes" and that that is not a blanket-"yes" but an immediate one. That's all well and good, but it would completely miss "past-me". I would have been aware of the policies and it would have somewhat affected my decisions, but it would not have done anything about my avoidance of asking. If my 19-year-old self could have articulated it: "sure, yes means yes and no means no, but if I don't ask, I don't have to deal with it."
I mean, these are some really deep-seated problems and I don't think it's unique to me. I grew up in a sexually conservative household, so there was no talk of sex—nobody was comfortable being open about it. What I derived from that is that sex is something shameful and not to be spoken of—remnants of that continue to haunt me. So what do you do with someone who has never talked openly about sex? How do you explain "yes means yes" and what an "enthusiastic consent" looks like? Where do you start with someone who is still thinking "how do I attract women?" as if it were a state of being rather than a play-filled negotiation between two individuals?
In the end, it is not a victim's problem or fault if jee is sexually harassed or sexually assaulted. It is entirely in the hands of the potential assailant, and it is from that foundation that all education programs should be built.
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