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Editorial: Changing the rape culture

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 04, 2014 5:00 AM

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After a week of protests, petitions, and outrage over UI President’s Sally Mason’s comments concerning sexual assault, in which Mason implied that sexual assault was part of human nature and that total prevention of sexual assault was, therefore, “unrealistic,” campus policies appear to be shifting somewhat. In the wake of widespread criticism and her subsequent apology, Mason has unveiled a six-point plan to revise the university’s current sexual-assault policy.

The changes proposed by the university include imposing harsher penalties on offenders, increasing support services for survivors, improving communication (including rewording the emails reporting sexual assaults on campus), increasing funding for sexual-assault protection programs, and forming a student advisory board that will meet with the president to discuss the issue.

Now, before going into the positives and negatives of this proposal, it is important to note that Mason and the UI administration did not bring about these changes. Rather, the ordinary students and community members who went out to the Pentacrest to protest the schools rape culture, who signed the NotInMyNature.com petition, and who took to social media to voice outrage over Mason’s comments effected the change. The credit here should be afforded to the activists who yelled, kicked, and unfortunately, had to force their administrators to do their job.

The reforms themselves are a mixed bag. We definitely support the creation of a student advisory board, not only on a practical level for student concerns to be voiced directly to the administration, but also because it moves the university in a more democratic direction and holds the school’s administrations more accountable to the students they represent.

That being said, we believe that these reforms do not go far enough in destroying the university’s widespread rape culture. 

This stems from the plan attempting to address the symptoms of sexual assault rather than its causes. For example, the points focus on expanding Nite Ride and improving lighting around campus, which while being welcome, probably won’t cut down on sexual assaults in a meaningful way.

If UI administrators were intent on cracking down on rape, they would immediately overhaul the Iowa’s sexual-assault education programs, which, at best, are grossly inadequate.

The sexual-assault training for freshmen at OnIowa! is brief, inexhaustive, and done with the most perfunctory of attitudes. The follow-up course for freshmen has also rightly been criticized for being laughably bad. After that, there’s basically no prevention-education programs for university students.

If the university wants to aggressively combat sexual assault, it needs to not only come up with educational programs, which are simply adequate, it needs remedies that correctly address the systemic causes of sexual assault: the patriarchal culture that provides justification for rape, the violent language associated with sex, the perverted image of masculinity that associates sex with power, and blaming the victims.

This is an important time. There is real momentum to force the university to take sexual-assault prevention seriously and to overhaul how the administration views and treats sexual assault. Students must not get complacent because of a few cosmetic changes to the school’s policy. We must continue to push the university to adopt a serious, effective, and hard-line approach to eradicate this evil from our campus.


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