Sexual Assault: Expanding the Discussion

By: Hannah Dunham | Mar 25, 2014 | 2392 Views Opinion |

“Sexual assault /misconduct report notifications are released by Claremont McKenna College when certain crimes are reported on or near campus property…”

If you check your CMC email regularly, or, really, at all, you’ve seen sixteen emails this school year that start along these lines. Sixteen times, Dean Spellman has informed us of a sexual assault on the five campuses. Sixteen times, cursory details of an assault have been relayed. And sixteen times, we have received “campus safety tips,” or tips on how to not get raped. To be fair, these tips are prefaced with this statement:

“No action or inaction by a sexual assault or misconduct survivor makes that person responsible for his or her victimization. Only perpetrators of the assault or misconduct are responsible for such conduct and its effects and we believe the most effective way to reduce and eliminate occurrences of sexual violence is for individuals to not commit sexual violence. However, the following suggestions may help reduce the possibility of experiencing a sexual assault or other sexual misconduct, or may improve opportunities to receive prompt assistance.” [emphasis added]

Campus safety has told us that, in order to eliminate sexual violence, people should not commit sexual violence. They follow this with seven tips for those who may experience sexual assault. Not with tips on how to not assault somebody, even though the most effective way to stop sexual assault is by stopping individuals from committing sexual assault.

Sixteen times I have read an email telling me how to avoid assault, but not once have I read anything that actually defines sexual assault. I mean there is the standard definition: sex without consent. But what about those situations where the lines aren’t quite as obvious, when there’s a gray area? And, yeah, most people know not to have sex with someone who says no. But, when the situation isn’t black and white, how to avoid assaulting someone isn’t, either.

I cannot speak to the entire spectrum of sexual assault, but I can talk about what happened to me. I was sexually assaulted on campus my junior fall semester, but it wasn’t black and white. After it occurred, I did as much research as I could to come up with a word to describe what had happened to me, and I came up with this: acquaintance rape.

Acquaintance rape occurs when one person forces sex on someone they know. In my case, someone I was friends with. Someone I trusted. Someone who, in my opinion, didn’t realize he was assaulting me. Someone who, when I confronted him, apologized, telling me he didn’t realize what was happening. You never read about what happened to me because I couldn’t bring myself to report him. These are the situations that need clarification. These are the times when tips on how to not assault someone might come in handy.

While I think it’s great, even crucial, that colleges send out information regarding sexual assaults on campus, we need more. We need definitions of what rape is—not just a broad, “rape is forced sex,” definition, but something that defines the blurred areas, too. We need to know that rape isn’t just something that happens between two strangers, but between friends, too. And, most importantly, we need to know how to not rape others.

I don’t have a comprehensive list of “tips” to offer. I am not an expert. All I can offer are a few suggestions, and, hopefully, others can help fill in the gaps. These are the things I think we should be aware of in order to reduce sexual violence:

Read the body language of the person you’re with. If they seem uncomfortable, they probably are. You can ALWAYS ask for consent again.

Consider how drunk you are, or how drunk the other person is. Alcohol is not, and never will be, an excuse for rape.

Not saying “no” does not mean “yes.” We stress consent so much within our discourse about sex, but knowing about consent and having consent are two very different things.

Just because someone said “yes” before does not mean they will say “yes” again. Ask every time. If the other person says “no,” they mean it.

Obviously, more can and should be said. My request is that you read this and share this and call for change. We don’t need tips on how to avoid assault, especially since assault is no one’s fault but the assaulter. What we need is education; we need to know what rape is, in all its forms, and how to not rape someone when the lines are blurred.

(For more information, you can check out this link: https://www.rainn.org/get-information/types-of-sexual-assault/acquaintance-rape)

About the Author

  • Confused

    Is the author implying that yes can mean no in some situations? I’m genuinely lost.

    • Hannah Dunham

      I am more speaking to the situations in where “yes” isn’t explicitly given; where “yes” was said in a previous encounter, but not in the current encounter; or when someone is drunk and/or not capable of giving consent. I hope this helps with your confusion!

      • Confused

        Definitely does. Thanks!

  • Byron

    Hannah, this article is incredibly moving and important. Thank you for writing it.

  • Orientation Education

    Acquaintance rape is the most common form of rape, especially in college. Before leaving high school, my class was required to attend a talk about sexual misconduct/rape in college, where they showed us all of the facts, including this one. I wish that the 5Cs had a similar program during orientation. Instead, they just showed us entertaining skits about serious issues… maybe a serious talk would have been more effective.

  • Piven