Prall: Uprooting the sexual assault culture


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Sexual-assault awareness is a cause that has seen significant support and growth in the past three years. I am proud to be in a part of the generation of people who have fought to have their voices heard. It is saddening to know this sort of activism wouldn’t be necessary with the absence of sexual assault, on campuses or otherwise. Awareness is something to be proud of, and now, it is time to shift the conversation among lawmakers to changing the culture that facilitates sexual assault.

What caught my attention pertaining to this particular issue was a recent article from Al Jazeera America. The National Institute for Justice had published an analysis of sexual-assault cases reported from 2011-13 at prestigious universities in the United States. Upon first glance, the numbers are appalling. The increase in the reported cases during this two-year interval was, on average, 62 percent. More troublesome, however, was that schools such as Brown, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins had increases of 200 percent, 450 percent, and 800 percent, respectively. Johns Hopkins is dealing with a relatively small number of people, facilitating its statistical leap (from one reported case to nine), but the other two schools were dealing with mid-single-digit accounts of sexual assault in 2011, as opposed to more than 20 in 2013.

Again, the numbers are frightening. A quick analysis, though, reminds us that these are positive indicators … of a sort. They are evidence of the movement to de-stigmatize sexual assault, get victims the help they need, and hold schools responsible for sexual assaults. We here at the University of Iowa are experiencing the same phenomenon, with last year’s high of 12 reported sexual assaults on track to be eclipsed in the second full month of the academic year. But awareness is the very first step on a lengthy trail.

To end the culture of rape is to replace that culture entirely. As it is in nature, anything with roots is harder to remove from the environment. But we are the gardeners; we have the power to make change. What situations or circumstances lead to sexual assault? Alcohol abuse, ignorance, and a lack of respect.

To be realistic, alcohol consumption has been around almost as long as grain consumption, and that’s not going to change drastically, not fast enough to help would-be victims now. So tackling ignorance and respect are what we should tune in to. These culprits have been around longer than alcohol, but can be changed much sooner by openness and discussion. Music, media, politics: They all involve conversations that, when made to be about justice and understanding, can craft a new culture of respect. We vote on what we want the conversation to be about, whether it is at the polls or on iTunes. Our money and time are just as legitimate as the votes we cast participating in government.

The UI is working to deter sexual assault: training bartenders, papering residence halls with consent campaigns, etc. While these tools are undoubtedly helpful, the real change will come from the ground level, by all of us. And that’s a real “us,” not just women. The only way to change a culture both men and women live in is to include both sides in the fight for justice.

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