SHHH!!: Sexual Violence & Black Silence on College Campuses
Over the past few weeks it seems that sexual violence has plagued my campus. Every other week there is a report on an alleged sexual assault on the news. It has gotten so bad that even my boyfriend has commented on the frequency of the reports.
Sexual assault is a problem that presents itself on every college campus. Every college freshman has to sit through their school's Title IX presentation and you are given advice such as, "don't leave your cup unattended, "stay in a public place" or "go to parties in groups". Those words from your parents, teachers, and that Title IX presenter you thought was a waste of time, means something a little different when sexual assault is no longer this mysterious headline on the news. It becomes real that this is a terrifying encounter that can happen to your classmate, your friend, or even you.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 11.2% of all students experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation, 8.8% of that total are females, and 20% of incidents against women are unreported.
Why is this?
1) Universities care more about saving face vs. being transparent about issues of sexual violence/assault and actually assisting students at an institutional level.
I believe it's because our campuses don't care about the victim, the perpetrator, or the crime. They care about the school and its' image. A few weeks ago my university had a forum about sexual violence on college campuses. The athletic department and Greek Life office made it mandatory for all organizations and teams to be in attendance. This was a super serious event for the school and it was expected that all of the students treated it as such. ::Raises Hand:: How do you expect students to treat it seriously when the university picks one day out of the academic year to treat sexual violence as an actual problem and not dirt that they need to sweep under a rug? For instance, I have searched high and low for statistics about sexual violence reports at Duquesne University but I have found zero-- even though there has been four assaults that has happen this semester.
2) We are rarely taught how to properly identify what sexual violence is.
We hear-- "No means 'No'", etc.. see posters in our residents' halls, and maybe a post or two on social media about rape, but that is about it on sexual violence. We're never asked to define what consent means for us, we're expected to just know what a healthy sexual relationship looks like, but no one ever gives us those answers as 17 to 20 year olds.
In high school, the narrative that was painted to me about rape and sexual assault is that it happens while you are walking home in the middle of the night and then attacked by a complete stranger. Statistically, this is the least likely scenario for sexual assault to actually happen. In fact, the 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics Report on violent victimization of college students indicates that between 1995 and 2000, 74% of rapes and sexual assaults were committed by someone known to the victim (U.S. Department of Justice, 2003). When these issues of sexual violence happen on campuses, students are lost and don't know what to call the assault. A one day, on-campus workshop doesn't adequately prepare students for the traumatic realities of rape and sexual violence.
3) Black victims are taught to be silent.
In college, people often talk about sexual violence against white women, but rape can happen to anyone and it does. The conversation never seems to be a "black woman's issue" on college campuses. This is interesting because the rate of rape and sexual assault against white women and black women are basically the same (there is a .3 difference).
And in fact from the Journal of Violence Against Women, showed that relative to white women, "African American women reported higher rates of un-wanted sexual intercourse resulting from partners using physical force, emotional pressure, or perceiving their partner as being too aroused to stop his advances". The same journal stated, "Comparing White and African American participants revealed that significantly more African American women engaged in sexual intercourse because they felt it was useless to try to stop their partner". It took me as second to process this because it is statistically proven that the issue of sexual assault in college is prominent in our community, but black women are not mentioned in the conversation of sexual assault on college campuses. This speaks to the overall erasure of violence against black women... our stories, our experience, our pain. Black women learn that people and institutions don't care about their trauma so they become silent.
We have seen in recent news, people with power like; Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and even the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, when back by the silence of big institutions have gotten away with sexual assault. How much longer will we allow institutions we put our time, money, and trust in to to be silent? We cannot effectively change how institutions of higher ed handle sexual assault unless we push for them to be transparent. For them to care more about the victim than a news report. There is no reason that schools like Duquesne University should have the ability to hide their statistics on sexual violence when it's a major problem on its' campus and a major problem on campuses across the country. We also cannot tackle the problem of sexual violence until we include all women, especially women of color in the conversation-- unless we push for these conversations to be had, no matter how uncomfortable they might be.