It’s up to us to fight sexual assault

WIsconsin Gazette

Just weeks into the fall semester and the headlines hint at the violence women continue to face on college campuses:

• 2nd assault in 4 days reported on college campus

• Student held, 2nd suspect sought in campus rape

• University investigating armed sexual assault

• Sexual assaults under scrutiny on campus

• Armed sexual assault reported.

Statistics tell us that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their four years away at school. Of those assaults, only 12 percent get reported. And of those reported assaults, only a fraction of the offenders get punished. 

But this fall, another story is making headlines:

• College women start a revolution against sexual assault

• Greek system pledges to address rape on campus

• Campuses to bolster sexual assault prevention efforts.

In April 2011, the U.S. Education Department issued guidelines to inform colleges and universities of their obligations under federal law to prevent and respond to sexual assault. Administrators were reminded that sexual violence is a crime, and also a civil rights violation.

Earlier this year, the administration established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which in April produced a public service campaign, 1is2many, and issued a series of best practices intended to encourage campus surveys on sexual assault, create safe spaces for survivors and train officials to deal with trauma.

At the same time, progressive lawmakers continued to press for legislative reform and new penalties for schools that ignore or mishandle cases of sexual assault. Most notably, California lawmakers passed “yes means yes” legislation that could lead to a dramatic shift in how campus assaults get handled. The measure requires California schools receiving financial aid to agree that in rape investigations, silence or the lack of resistance does not mean consent.

So we have survivors carrying out this campaign against violence on college campuses. We have colleges and universities pledging to do better. We have lawmakers committed to the cause.

But we all must do our part. It’s on us, all of us, to work to create an environment where sexual assault is dealt with as a crime. It’s incumbent on all of us to change the culture.

“The fact is that from sports leagues to pop culture to politics, our society still does not sufficiently value women,” President Barack Obama said in mid-September, introducing the “It’s On Us” campaign against sexual violence on campus during a ceremony at the White House. “We still don’t condemn sexual assault as loudly as we should. We make excuses. We look the other way. The message that sends can have a chilling effect on our young women.” 

The “It’s On Us” campaign encourages us to not be bystanders, but instead to teach people to respect one another, to confront rather than look away when we see something amiss in a bar or overhear troubling talk at a party, to stop a friend from taking advantage of someone or to protect a friend when she or he is unable to do so. Looking away or ignoring what’s unacceptable is not a matter of minding one’s own business. It is tolerance of violence against women.

So at WiG, we’re taking the pledge. 

And we hope you take the pledge — ItsOnUs.org — as well.