It’s On Us (trigger warning – discussion of sexual assault)

I sit in a space of discomfort and relief with the amount of attention we are devoting to the conversation around sexual assault/violence in our society and specifically on college campuses.

I feel relief because we are creating spaces where it is okay to talk about sexual assault without judging the people who are survivors of assault.  I feel relief because we are centering this conversation around making colleges and universities safe learning environments for all gender identities.  I feel relief because I see so many members of our community making this conversation a priority in their lives.  And, it is about time.

I feel discomfort, because I feel that we should be doing so much more as a society, and by the time people are in college, we have inherited students with established patterns of behavior from their 17,18,19+ years of socialization.  I feel discomfort because I am a woman, with a daughter, and I wonder if the world will be better for her than it is for me, and that it was for my mother and the generations of women before me.  I feel discomfort because we are having a narrow conversation, when what we need is an ethos shift.

When I think about the It’s On Us campaign in our community, I think of our community making a commitment to having the BIG PICTURE conversation about sexual assault and violence.

A colleague shared this report from the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/ss6308a1.htm?s_cid=ss6308a1_w)- and it deeply troubles me that sexual assault is so prevalent in our society, that it is a public health issue.  This particular data point especially concerns me:

The majority of victims of all types of sexual violence knew their perpetrators. Almost half of female victims of rape (an estimated 46.7%) had at least one perpetrator who was an acquaintance, and an estimated 45.4% of female rape victims had at least one perpetrator who was an intimate partner (Table 3). More than half (an estimated 58.4%) of women who experienced alcohol/drug facilitated penetration were victimized by an acquaintance.

We have historically been applying strategies to combat sexual assault, that do not address the dominant way in which most sexual assaults occur on college campuses.  So, while discussing ways to be safe while walking to one’s car at night is very useful and necessary, we are missing the bigger conversation about our social systems in place that lead to nonconsensual sexual activity between two people who, more often than not, know each other.

This means talking about and addressing the roots of this issue.  How do our social pressures in our social organizations force us into choicelessness, to make decisions we might not otherwise make?  How do we intervene when we see a situation between two people who may not be in a space to offer consent?

So, in addition to the safety conversation, how are we having the consent conversation- when that is how the greatest percentages of sexual assaults are occurring?  How are we having the conversation about the social norms that have/and continue to be reinforced through our music (like Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines), our entertainment, our parenting, our legislation, and so much more?  How are we having the conversation about the use of alcohol as a social lubricant, and factor in this conversation.

It’s on us to go there- and look in the mirror.  It’s on us to interrupt the norms.  It’s on us to look within, as individuals, and as members of groups.  It’s on you, and it’s on me.

For resources on sexual harassment, misconduct and assault at Rollins College please refer to this website.

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