Guest column: Change the language of sexual assault


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In the past week, I have opened my email twice to find a “timely warning” about a sexual assault on the University of Iowa campus. This month, there were three such warnings on Nov. 4, 14, and 18 and two reports of sexual assaults on July 16 and Aug. 26.

According to the 2012 Board of Regents Security Report, there were three attempted and actual sexual assaults in 2008, three in 2009, two in 2010, four in 2011, and eight in 2012. Any sexual assault is deplorable, but this escalation in sexual assaults in the past five years signals problems in prevention and in our community mindset. While the rise in sexual assaults may be associated with more reporting and not necessarily more assaults, the language of the emails from the Department of Public Safety do not help and only hint of a rape culture in the Iowa community. Rape culture focuses on victim blaming — women were “asking for it” or women put themselves in unsafe situations by walking alone, drinking alcohol, dressing provocatively, or hanging out with men.

This language is similar to the information provided by the Department of Public Safety that focuses on the potential victims of sexual assaults, not the perpetrators. The language of the email is in the passive voice. No one is doing the acting, “women will be the victim of sexual assault.”

Incorrect — rapists will sexually assault “one in every four to five college women.”

This also neglects that men can be the victims, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, rapists will attack 3 percent of American men. While the email correctly states, “victims are never responsible for the offenders’ behavior,” the solutions from the university places all the responsibility on women in preventing sexual assault.

Similarly, the UI police Rape Aggression Defense Program focuses on women by offering “personal safety education embodies a practical blend of threat avoidance strategies and real-world assault resistance for women.”

Again, women are responsible for preventing an attack. The email continues by stating that alcohol and drugs “create vulnerability to sexual assault.” By focusing on alcohol and drug use, Public Safety again takes the attention off the perpetrator and cautions potential victims to “be alert.”

While the consumption of alcohol may be correlated with sexual assault, alcohol does not cause rape — rapists assault people, they cause rape.

There needs to be a serious discussion in our community about how to prevent sexual assaults that moves beyond “timely reminders” of appropriate behavior, alcohol consumption, self-defense, and consent to include a discussion on who perpetrates rape, what is the meaning behind rape, and how is rape a tool of power. Prevention of sexual assaults should not fall on the potential victims’ shoulders but should be stopped at the level of the perpetrator.

Why doesn’t this timely reminder include information from the Women’s Resource & Action Center, which runs a Men’s Antiviolence Council that focuses on preventing violence and understanding male behavior or information about the Rape Victim Advocacy Program on campus, which provides resources and support to all victims of assault in our community?

I hope the Iowa community provides any support necessary for these victims. I also hope our campus turns the rhetoric away from potential victims to a discussion on the perpetrators of sexual assault.

We need put an end to a rape culture that teaches female students “don’t get raped” instead of teaching our community “don’t rape.”

Katherine Massoth

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