Part eleven in a series by Joy Pedrow Skarka
My mom dropped me off at college, waving goodbye as she drove away in her minivan. Tears in her eyes, she was sad to lose her baby girl. Only three days later, I would sit in my dorm room crying alone after I was raped.
Rape culture has infiltrated college campuses. We send our daughters, who are barely legal adults, into colleges where we know they could get raped. The federally funded Campus Climate Survey revealed that 20 percent of college-aged women experienced sexual assault at some point during college. That means that 1 in 5 college students will experience sexual assault in college. In a friend group of ten girls, two will have been raped. In my college experience, this number was even higher. Why? Because 88 percent of women sexually assaulted on campus do not report it. Those who do report on campus rarely see their abuser expelled. (Check out Part 5: Rape Culture and Why I Didn’t Report.) I reported my rape to my university, and my rapist was expelled from the college. But my story is an uncommon one.
When rapes are reported to campuses, many faculty and institutions try to cover them up, fail to report them to authorities, or ignore them completely. In 2017, news broke out that at Baylor University, the world’s largest Baptist university, football players gang-raped women as a “bonding experience” for new recruits. Baylor University was served with their seventh Title IX lawsuit, a federal civil rights law against sex-based discrimination, which alleged that as many as eight football players drugged a student and took turns raping her in 2012.
An investigation found that seventeen women reported sexual assault or domestic violence carried out by nineteen players, including at least four gang rapes. The lawsuit claimed that the team’s practices helped create a culture of sexual violence, citing a “hostess” program in which women showed potential football recruits around campus with an “implied promise of sex” that “often became the reality.”
When sexual assaults were brought to the attention of the football department, the staff used its own internal disciplinary system, which treated the players in a special way and kept all allegations in-house.
The language used around this (and other such situations) reveals an underlying support of rape culture. The media used words to describe the men as “young promising students and athletes,” saying their “one mistake” could affect their future “promising careers.” The men were portrayed as students with good grades who would sadly have to register as sex offenders, and that legal convictions will haunt them for the rest of their lives. But what about the victims? Their rape will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Such is the language of rape culture.
Why is sexual abuse rampant on college campuses? Some people argue it is partly because pornography is also rampant. Viewers between the ages of 18 and 24 made up 30 percent of the United States viewership in 2017 for the world’s largest porn website. (Check out Part 13: Rape Culture and Pornography.) Millions of porn videos involve drunk girls at college parties, gang rape, and sexual violence; and such videos help to form college students’ sex education. Pornography normalizes rape and violence, encouraging men to rape and women to “enjoy” it.
One college campus made the news for a club promoting rape culture through an event. During this event, students (primarily males) would get points for doing sexual acts such as drinking a shot of alcohol from a girl’s cleavage and getting a girl to sign a guy’s butt. The activities were listed on “scorecards,” assigned points, and awarded. Such a game perpetuates a society in which women are used as objects to “win games.” Fortunately, the event was later stopped and called a “reprehensible” example of “rape culture” on campus.
To learn more about rape culture on college campuses, watch the documentary The Hunting Ground.