According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 18.3% of women and 1.4% of men in the U.S. have been raped at some point in their lives. Of those survivors, 98.1% of women and 93.3% of men reported their rapist to be a man.
Despite the majority of perpetrators being men, sexual violence is still largely regarded as a “women’s issue.” This is unfortunately evident in our society’s outdated and ineffective approach to sexual assault prevention.
All my life I have been inundated with rule after rule to avoid unwanted attention from predatory men. Don’t walk alone at night. Always keep your keys in your hands. Dress modestly. Know how to defend yourself. Stay on the phone when walking, but don’t look distracted.
While some of this advice is helpful and likely given with the best intentions, it is often weaponized to blame victims. Almost every time I have told someone about a bad encounter with a man, I have been scolded for forgetting one of the seemingly endless rules I’m apparently supposed to have internalized as a young woman.
I used to quietly nod and agree with such comments, thinking my own behavior had put me at fault. Now, I can’t help but feel frustrated at how misplaced these criticisms are.
The fact of the matter is that the sole cause of sexual violence lies in the perpetrator; nothing a person does can cause them to be sexually assaulted or harassed.
This pattern of victim-blaming — present interpersonally, but also in our police and University systems — is one of the reasons sexual assault is so underreported. Survivors often report being asked such questions by police: What were you wearing? Were you flirting? How much did you drink? And for male survivors: Why didn’t you fight back?
Seeing how survivors are demeaned by those meant to bring them justice can motivate others to remain silent.
We need to dramatically change the culture around this issue.
Instead of fruitlessly trying to raise people not to become victims of sexual assault, we need to do the much more difficult work of raising people to not become sexual assaulters. We — men especially — need to have difficult conversations about how to hold our friends, family members and colleagues responsible for predatory behavior.
Unfortunately, our own university epitomizes the tendency to put the burden of solving this issue on survivors instead of perpetrators. Not only has the University failed to prevent sexual assault — it has actively enabled its continuation on our campus.
An investigation by USA Today revealed the University’s repeated mishandling of sexual assault allegations. The report found that after receiving rape allegations against running back Derrius Guice, “LSU officials either doubted the women’s stories, didn’t investigate, or didn’t call the police, allowing Guice to continue his football career.”
The University fails to make even basic efforts to keep survivors safe. Instead of expelling the perpetrators of sexual assault, the University allows them to remain on campus under the guise of "deferred suspensions."
In one instance, when a woman found herself in class with her abuser — who the school had found guilty not once, but twice — she was told that she would have to leave the classes they shared since “she was ‘the uncomfortable one.’”
The disheartening results of this investigation reinforced what many students have already known: for years, far too little has been done to prevent sexual assault on campus.
At freshman orientation, we viewed a short video about bystanderism. New students are required to complete a MyStudentBody course, which includes a section on sexual assault. Students who feel unsafe are told to download the LSU Shield app and hope for the best as they navigate the University’s poorly lit streets.
Two Student Government bills passed in response to these revelations: one that would require sexual assault training to receive Senate funding and another that would require student organizations to review a PowerPoint made by survivors and the Student Health Center.
While these efforts are important and well-intentioned steps forward, substantial progress cannot be made until the University addresses the systemic failures of its administration, athletic department and Title IX Office. Nothing is a greater setback to sexual assault prevention efforts on campus than the University making it clear to perpetrators that their crimes will likely go unpunished.
Rethinking our approach to sexual assault prevention to focus on perpetrators is essential to finally addressing the issue. What better place to start than our own university?
Claire Sullivan is an 18-year-old coastal environmental science freshman from Southbury, CT.