McGinnis: Sexual assault education on campus is lacking

What else can CWRU do?

Emerson McGinnis, Contributing Columnist

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Walking alone at night can be scary, and while Case Western Reserve University is in a city, I’ve found it does a fairly good job of making people feel safe. Most areas are well lit—although there are one or two lights, like the one by the Mather Dance Center, that turn off when you walk by rather than turning on—I see security guards out on patrol often and the buses and Safe Ride vehicles that run late into the night assure me that I don’t have to walk home. There was even a survey sent out a few weeks ago asking students their opinions on how safe they feel on campus. That being said, there is definitely a gender difference in safety issues. I spoke to a male friend about how he feels walking home at night, and he said he is always a little concerned about being mugged. I said I am always worried about being raped, and a girl next to me chimed in that she would rather be murdered than raped. After all, at least then she could be sure her attacker would be convicted. 

There are things that can be done to make a college campus safer, and CWRU does a lot of them. But beyond the police patrols, lights, emergency boxes and transportation options, there are also solutions that better address the root cause of the issue. After all, while there are many different societal opinions on what causes rape—clothes, leading someone on, drinking too much, walking alone—there is one thing that actually causes rape: rapists.

I remember a brief portion of orientation during my first year where we talked about Title IX, mostly about who we can talk to if we experience sexual assault or harassment and what exactly Title IX does. I don’t remember a single thing about consent or the ramifications to a student who rapes someone. I don’t remember talking about power imbalances or how silence does not constitute consent. That doesn’t mean we didn’t discuss it, but it does mean whatever we talked about didn’t stick. The posters in the bathrooms across campus give a nice overview of consent, and those are very useful and informative; however, it’s not quite the same as a face-to-face conversation about rape and consent and it doesn’t acknowledge the all-too-common fear felt by women walking alone at night.  

The fear is real, it is justified and it is something every woman has to deal with. Of course, anyone can be assaulted, but women are raised with the knowledge that they can be assaulted and that if they are, it might be their fault for not protecting themselves. I know I was. I was 12 the first time I thought about the possibility of being assaulted. I was out on a run at 5:30 a.m., I saw an older male jogger out, panicked and picked up the speed, terrified I was going to be assaulted. I took my dogs with me every morning after that, wore my hair in braids instead of a ponytail and put a pocket knife in my pocket just in case. 

Every time I know I will have to walk back to my dorm alone at night I bring my umbrella and make sure I wear shoes I can run in. I never wear headphones and I never wear my hood up, even if it’s cold, so I can hear and see if anyone is coming. I, and many other women I know, go through so much to prevent being assaulted or raped. Women are told to cover up, to stay with friends, to not provoke people and to avoid looking like a target, but somehow men are never told to not rape people. 

A few years ago, at the start of the #MeToo movement, my family and I were sitting at the dinner table. My parents told my 16-year-old brother to never be alone with a girl so she can’t accuse him of sexual assault. I told him to always ask for consent, a clear and enthusiastic “Yes!” to make sure he never commits sexual assault. It’s not enough to make sure girls have methods to keep themselves safe; we shouldn’t have to carry around pepper spray or even a gun because we’re so scared we’re going to be raped. Men should be taught that rape is wrong and that a woman is never asking for it. The rape culture in America stems from a societal issue of power imbalance and indoctrination about the causes of rape, and that is something a good university program can help undo. So while the brief orientation for first-years and the posters on the bathroom doors are a good start, there is a much more extreme and in-depth conversation that is needed to correct this societal problem and make sure women only worry about losing their wallet on their way home.