Anyone reading the news or using social media has been inundated with stories of sexual assault, from high profile cases such as Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. to the millions of recent #MeToo tags. And the statistics are nightmarish: 1 in 5 college women, and 1 in 16 college men, are sexually assaulted before graduation, gay and bisexual men are 10 times more likely to experience sexual assault than heterosexual men, about 1 in 2 bisexual women are sexually assaulted, as are 1 in 4 transgender people, and about 1 in 3 women of color are survivors of sexual violence. Everyone should be horrified and angered by these statistics, especially men. Though both men and women are survivors of sexual assault, men perpetrate over 98 percent of sexual assaults; however, only 6 percent of college men are perpetrators, so the vast majority of college men are “good guys.” These are the men I want to address in this essay.
As “good guys” we've never sexually assaulted anyone, and it's easy for us to pat ourselves on the back and consider sexual assault to be someone else's problem; I know this has been my attitude for most of my life, but recently I've come to realize that this attitude is irresponsible and so very harmful. I would like to offer several suggestions about what we can do.
First, we must acknowledge that sexual assault is OUR problem too. We can no longer leave it up to women and survivors to address this problem – we must work with them to find solutions.
Second, we must acknowledge that we have helped normalize rape culture, and although we haven't sexually assaulted anyone, many of us (me included) have passively or actively participated in this culture. Perhaps we didn't challenge a derogatory joke about a transgender person; perhaps we laughed when someone objectified or cat-called a woman passing by; perhaps we participated in “locker room talk” or chalked some questionable behavior up to simply “boys will be boys.” All of these actions and inactions have helped make rape culture a norm; we must own our contribution to rape culture and actively work to dismantle it.
Third, we must acknowledge that there are situations where sexual assault is more likely to happen, and educate ourselves to recognize these situations and learn how to effectively respond. For example, in 1981 anthropologist Peggy Sanday coined the term “rape-prone subcultures” for environments where people are at a heightened risk of sexual assault. Sanday and other researchers suggested that, on college campuses, fraternities and athletic teams are organizations that, without careful planning and monitoring, can be at risk to become rape-prone subcultures. It’s critical that we recognize when we might be in a rape-prone subculture and prepare to promptly intervene and respond. (Full disclosure – I am a proud member of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, and as an undergraduate I suspect that I faced many of the same challenges fraternity men face today.) DePauw offers many educational opportunities for this, including Green Dot bystander training, our Title IX office and Women's Center have fantastic resources including material about enthusiastic consent, and Code TEAL always welcomes the participation of men. We must educate ourselves and take advantage of these resources.
Fourth, we must believe survivors when they courageously share their experiences with us, and we must support them. Studies suggest that very few reports of sexual assault are false; in fact, according to the National Registry for Exonerations, there are 15 times fewer false convictions for sexual assault than there are false convictions for murder. We must not challenge survivors with questions about what they were wearing, how they were acting, whether or not they had been drinking, etc., and we must never accept rationalizations like “based on her clothing, she was just asking for it,” or “she was drunk – what do you expect?”
Fifth, we must hold all men accountable for their actions, especially regarding sexual assault. We cannot bury our head in the sand and ignore evidence that someone we know has sexually assaulted someone. We cannot rationalize our suspicions with “well, they were both drunk so no one is at fault” or “no one really knows what happened, so it must be OK,” or “he's a good friend and really didn’t mean it and I’m sure it will never happen again.” Sexual assault is a serious offense and perpetrators must be held responsible.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, we must get as angry and furious about sexual assault as survivors rightfully are. If we're not angry, we may not understand the destruction sexual assault has on survivors, and we may not be motivated to find solutions. After all, we’re the “good guys” and we must take action. Now.