1972: We Must Be Better

Carly Priest

Opinions Editor

[Trigger warning from the author: This piece contains statistics and themes surrounding sexual assaults on college campuses, including instances of rape.]

As I tried to unleash the first “1972” column of the 2017-2018 school year, I sat stumped. Not with writer’s block— just the opposite, actually. After following the news and events of the last few months with no “1972” column to digest them weekly, I had too many social justice issues from which to choose to write about.

 For those of you unfamiliar with The Crusader’s “1972” column, it brings attention to different social justice issues on our Holy Cross campus and in the world. The name “1972” was partly inspired by our proud Jesuit tradition and partly by the courage of the women who attended Holy Cross during the fall of 1972, the first semester the College accepted women. Our column looks to better understand the call to live as “Men and Women, For and With Others,” to unapologetically ignite conversations about different social justice issues, and, through community growth, broaden our perspectives and judgements. “1972” serves to legitimize discussions about social justice issues, even when the well-rounded nature of our considerations run afoul of traditional Catholic Social Teaching. In an effort to capture the multifaceted aspects of absent justice that are faced in varying degrees by our students and their communities, “1972” welcomes the submission of student pieces.

But, selfishly, back to my dilemma. Glancing at the news, you can imagine the cause of my stall. Should I write about the recent presidential decisions surrounding the repeal of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) legislation and resulting impact on the lives of 800,000 American who are just like you and I? Speak to attempts to bar openly-transgender men and women from service in our armed forces? Mourn the white supremacist rallies across our country? Descry the significant rollback of necessary Title IX protections? Bemoan the recent slew of superstorms and absent parity evident in the process of assisted evacuations, responders, and aid practices? Where to begin this year of hell-raising and answer-seeking?

There seems an increasingly-popular market for t-shirts that raise awareness against the number of sexual assaults occurring on U.S. college campuses each year. Many, including the version I own, offer some diminution of the following phrase: “consent is sexy,” “I [heart emoji] consent,” and “I [heart emoji] consensual sex.” I received my “I [heart emoji] consensual sex” t-shirt as a free gift for passing the Holy Cross Resource Peer Educator (RPE) quiz about sexual assault on college campuses (If you have not seen the incredible work our HC RPEs do, I encourage you to check them out). Speaking as someone who owns and wears the “I [heart emoji] consensual sex” t-shirt, it boasts a flawed message. When we encounter materials that say “consent is sexy,” “I [heart emoji] consent,” or “I [heart emoji] consensual sex,” we reconcile ourselves with the notion that the absence of consent in a sexual encounter renders sex “less-sexy.” In implication, we miss the core of the message we should emphasize: In the absence of consent, there is no sex. In the absence of affirmative and enthusiastic verbal consent given at each stage of sexual encounter by all parties involved, we are left with rape, and only rape. My critique does not serve to reflect negatively on the Holy Cross RPEs, or the wonderful work they do, but rather to critique the cultural understanding of consent versus the absence of consent. But again, I reiterate:

The absence of consent is not non-consensual sex.

The absence of consent is rape.

According to statistics gathered by the United States Department of Justice and published by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), one in five women who walk on a college campus this year will be the victims of sexual assault.[1] While women are at a staggeringly higher risk for sexual assault than men, certain groups of women are overrepresented within this statistic. Women of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and first-year female students are disproportionately victim to sexual assault and violence at instances higher than any other group.[2] We must face the growing issue of sexual assaults on college campuses because it is an issue which can no longer be ignored.

Recalling the statistics featured in the previous paragraph, here’s another: 50 percent of sexual assaults occurring on college campuses happen in just four months: August, September, October, and November. [3] In a horrifying twist, the four-month phenomenon persists so routinely—so annually—that it may be observed, studied, and named: the red zone.[4] A quick search of the phrase “red zone, college sexual assault” reveals pages and pages of articles like “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t: How One College Handled a Sexual Assault Complaint” and “‘Red Zone’ Awareness the Focus of College Sex Abuse Programs.”[5],[6] As studies like the Journal of Interpersonal Violence-published report “The Red Zone: Temporal Risk for Unwanted Sex Among College Students” and the “Gender-Based Violence Statistics” indicate, the incidence of sexual assault spikes during a woman’s first four months in college.[7], [8]

While conversations about sexual assault are neither easy nor comfortable, they must be facilitated, and we must listen for those voices most frequently drowned out.  I leave this first “1972” article in hopeful resound: We must do better; we must be better—together.

       

       

 

[1] “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 2016. Accessed September 17th, 2017.  https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.

[2] “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 2016. Accessed September 17th, 2017.  https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.

[3] “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 2016. Accessed September 17th, 2017.  https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.

[4] “Campus Sexual Violence: Statistics.” The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), 2016. Accessed September 17th, 2017.  https://www.rainn.org/statistics/campus-sexual-violence.

[5] Bogdanich, Walt. “Reporting Rape, and Wishing She Hadn’t: How One College Handled a Sexual Assault Complaint.” The New York Times, July 12th, 2014. Accessed September 17th, 2017. https://nyti.ms/2jDWCfF.

[6] Cochrane, Emily. “‘Red Zone’ Awareness the Focus of College Sex Abuse Programs.” The Miami Herald, originally published August 6th, 2016. Accessed September 17th, 2017. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article94122277.html.

[7] “The Red Zone: Temporal Risk for Unwanted Sex Among College Students.” William F. Flack Jr. et al. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol 23, Issue 9, pp. 1177 – 1196. First published date: February-28-2008. Accessed September 17th, 2017. 10.1177/0886260508314308

[8] “Gender-Based Violence Statistics.” Know Your Title IX. Accessed September 17th, 2017.   https://www.knowyourix.org/issues/statistics/.

 

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