Tag Archives: Sexual Assault

College is too late to start teaching students about sexual assault, by Jessica Valenti, via The Guardian:

There are some essential life skills that high schools know they have to teach students. That’s why most offer classes like woodshop, home economics and drivers education. So I have to ask: Given that we’re keen to teach teenagers the basics they need to function in society, why do we still have no mandated education around rape?

Expecting high schoolers to fully grasp what sexual assault is without comprehensive education is ridiculous. Politicians still routinely demonstrate their ignorance around rape, the FBI only changed its outdated definition of sexual assault in 2011, and even the courts regularly muck up rape cases.

And while it’s wonderful that more and more universities are creating sexual assault orientations and mandating courses on consent, by the time young people reach college (assuming they go at all) it’s often too late. Nearly half of American teenagers are sexually active by the time they’re 17 years old and 44% of sexual assault victims are under 18 years old.

Earlier this month, Senators Claire McCaskill and Tim Kaine introduced the Teach Safe Relationships Act, which would mandate sexual assault and violence prevention education in high school. But we need more than a guarantee that rape will be talked about – we need a national standard for how it’s discussed. Victim-blaming, confusion around what the definition of rape is, and terrible ideas about how to stop assault all show that there’s too much misinformation around sexual assault.

We can’t have abstinence-only education enthusiasts teaching the topic, for example. Rape victims – including kidnapping victim Elizabeth Smart – have said that receiving abstinence only education worsened their feelings of shame after being assaulted. (Curricula frequently teaches that young women are ‘dirty’ or ‘used’ after sex.) Some of the curricula even directly blames victims: In one popular textbook, for example, students are asked, “How do some people say NO with their words, but YES with their actions or clothing?

Considering the full-on backlash to ‘yes means yes’ laws and standards at universities, I don’t expect that a push to mandate similar education at the high school level would be met without opposition. But rape is not a talking point or a thought experiment. And now is the time – when ending sexual assault is a central part of the national conversation – that activists and legislators should be pushing for the most progressive, results oriented curricula possible for teens.

Young people need a clear understanding of what sexual assault is through a curriculum devised by experts, a comprehensive explanation of enthusiastic consent, and a roadmap for how to deal with a culture that victim-blames and is generally decades behind where it should be.

If most states require sex education for teens, and we continue the fight for medically accurate, non-religiously based sex education – we can certainly do the same for education on rape. If we can manage to have nearly every state pass an anti-bullying law and mandate education on the topic, we surely can gather up the same kind of support to end sexual assault and raise awareness. The question isn’t one of ability, but of will. Yes, it will be controversial and it will be an uphill battle. But if we want to truly stop rape before it happens and arm young people with the knowledge they need to deal with the reality of sexual assault – this is our only option.

Male victims of campus sexual assault speak out, via The Huffington Post:

*Trigger Warning*

It was Andrew’s sixth night of freshman year at Brown University when he was assaulted by a male student in his dorm bathroom. When Andrew brought on-campus charges, his assailant was expelled.

Unlike myriad students who report mishandled cases in the burgeoning national campaign against sexual assault, Andrew initially believed his case was handled appropriately.

But after The Huffington Post discovered Andrew’s assailant had previously been found responsible for assaulting two other students and had not been expelled, Andrew was devastated.

Andrew has decided to share his story in hopes that victims of assault — and specifically male victims — be taken more seriously.

“It’s time to include male survivors’ voices,” he said. “We are up against a system that’s not designed to help us.”

In the early hours of Sept. 5, 2011, Andrew, who asked that his last name be withheld, was up late excitedly chatting with his hallmates in Keeney Quad, one of two main freshman housing units. Jumping from room to room, Andrew admired the varied displays his classmates had on their walls. In his room, Andrew had put up Art Deco travel posters and a screen print of neighborhoods in his hometown of Washington, D.C.

Around 5 a.m., his classmates returned to their rooms while Andrew headed to the communal bathrooms to brush his teeth. Halfway down the hall, a male student he didn’t recognize passed him. Not thinking much of it, Andrew entered the bathroom and began to wash his hands.

A knock on the door surprised him. The bathroom required a dorm key, so anyone who lived in the building should have been able to get inside. Andrew opened the door. It was the same student he had seen in the hall.

Andrew went back to the sink, and the student approached him. “You’re hot,” Andrew remembers him saying. The student propositioned him but Andrew politely declined.

“Nobody has to know,” the student said.

He came up behind Andrew, grabbed his crotch and moved him into the bathroom stall. Frozen, Andrew protested but did not fight back, scared of what would happen if he did.

For 15 minutes the stranger assaulted him.

Andrew has a hard time articulating what he felt during the assault. All he remembers is being unable to speak or act. “I just remember focusing on the stall door, knowing that he was between me and my escape.”

When the assault was over, the assailant “just left.” Andrew remembers resting his head against the bathroom stall and listening to the buzz of the fluorescent lights as he tried to reconcile what had just happened to him.

“I didn’t even know his name,” Andrew said. “I didn’t know who he was. Nobody saw anything.”

Andrew later found out the assailant’s name through a mutual friend. During the hearing process he also learned that his assailant was a sophomore who had been visiting a residential adviser in the dorm earlier that night.

The day after the assault, Andrew told his friends what happened, but joked that it was a “5 a.m. hookup in the bathroom.” It was easier to deal with the shame if he felt control over the situation. At 8 p.m. Andrew and his classmates were required to attend a mandatory orientation meeting entitled “Understanding Sexual Assault.”

Andrew remembers feeling isolated in the auditorium populated by his peers. “It was a sad twist of irony,” he said.

At first, Andrew berated himself, wondering if he could have done more to stop it. But after a couple months he started feeling like himself again, excelling in his introductory course on Urban Studies and joining groups like the Queer Alliance, the Brown University Chorus and a coed literary fraternity.

Things took a turn in the spring when Andrew was cast in a campus production of “Don Pasquale” and attended rehearsals nightly on the north side of campus, where his assailant lived — and seeing him “almost every single time” he was there.

On the morning of Feb. 29, 2012, he had a panic attack. “I got in the shower and suddenly started shaking and could only see in front of me and probably couldn’t have told you where or who I was.”

Andrew started meeting regularly with a counselor, but initially chose not to share the assailant’s name, as he was not ready to pursue a campus hearing. But in May, after a couple months of counseling, he decided to file a formal complaint with the university. The hearing was held the following November.

Andrew’s assailant participated via phone as, unbeknownst to Andrew, he was on suspension for two other cases of sexual assault.

The two other victims, Brenton (who would only give his first name), and another student who requested to remain anonymous, said they filed a joint complaint in December 2011. They had hearings for their cases in March 2012; the university found the assailant responsible for sexual misconduct in both cases and suspended him until the following December.

“I was happy that he got suspended, but I didn’t think it was enough. I knew there were even more people he had gotten to,” Brenton said.

After Andrew’s hearing in November, the university found the assailant responsible for a third case of sexual misconduct and expelled him. The assailant appealed all three sanctions and was rejected. He declined to comment for this article.

The timeline of all three assaults was as follows:

After this story was published, a fourth student came forward and told HuffPost that the same perpetrator had harassed him, stalked him and threatened his life after a sexual encounter. According to documents obtained by HuffPost, the encounter occurred in September 2011, and the harassment resulted in a university no-contact order between the two students. This means the university was aware of the perpetrator’s history of harassment during the first two sexual misconduct hearings and still only imposed a one-semester suspension on the perpetrator.

Brown has recently been in the news for accusations of mishandled cases of sexual assault, notably that of Lena Sclove, which prompted a federal Title IX investigation.

In Sclove’s case, the accused student was found responsible for two counts of sexual misconduct and suspended for two semesters. Similarly, the student who assaulted Brenton and the anonymous victim was merely suspended for just over one semester.

Brown’s failure to impose a sufficient sanction was unsurprising to Andrew but upsetting nonetheless. “I wish they had taken it seriously the first one or two times,” he said. “The process weighed on me from April to November. … I could’ve had days of my sophomore year that I didn’t have to drag myself out of bed every morning. … To know that [the hearing process] could have been prevented if they had expelled him the first time is incredibly upsetting. My sophomore year could have been totally different.”

Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, recently sent a letter to the Brown community outlining revisions to Brown’s sexual assault policy, including that a student given a sanction that includes separation from the university would be immediately removed from campus residences (though not necessarily barred from campus). The letter also included clearer guidelines on how the university determines a sanction, but it didn’t determine specific sanctions for violations of sexual misconduct, leaving Andrew’s concern unaddressed.

In a statement emailed to The Huffington Post, Brown University said it could not comment on the individual cases.

“The circumstances of each case are taken into account by the conduct board and adjudicated under our current sanctioning guidelines, which are reviewed regularly,” the statement said. “We believe our process is the right one for our University and we remain committed to doing all we can to keep our community safe and to being a leader in establishing best practices.”

F
or all the focus on campus sexual assault in recent years, male victims have been frequently absent from the news coverage, except for the most tragic cases, like that of Trey Malone, an Amherst College student who committed suicide after his assault.

One study shows rape victims are 13 times more likely than non-crime victims to have attempted suicide. Jennifer Marsh, vice president of victims services at Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, the largest anti-sexual-assault organization in the nation, said both men and women who survive sexual assault face similar psychological effects — but there are some differences. “Male survivors who are suicidal tend to use more lethal means,” Marsh said.

Studies show that one in five women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, and that approximately 50 percent of transgender people experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes. But statistics vary on the incidence of sexual assault against men. According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of 5,000 college students at over 130 colleges, one in 25 men answered “yes” to the question “In your lifetime have you been forced to submit to sexual intercourse against your will?” Other organizations, such as 1in6, an advocacy group for male survivors, put the estimate much higher, at one in six males before the age of 18.

Steve LaPore, founder and director of 1in6, believes male sexual assaults are underreported because the issue is still taboo. While women have “really moved the ball forward,” resulting in a heightened awareness about sexual assault against women and children, it’s an awareness that doesn’t include men as victims, he said.

“We tell little boys and men to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

“Culturally we still don’t want to see men as vulnerable or hurt,” LaPore explained. “We tell little boys and men to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” Because of the stigma, he said, there are fewer resources available for male victims.

LaPore was not surprised by the fact that Andrew’s assailant initially received a lighter punishment. “In many cases we find that it’s more difficult for men to be believed, or to take their case seriously,” he said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of seeing men’s roles as bystanders and preventers, but we don’t recognize men who are survivors of sexual assault and abuse.”

Clayton Bullock, psychiatrist and co-author of Male Victims of Sexual Assault: Phenomenology, Psychology, Physiology, found that male victims are also less likely to come forward or be taken seriously because of their physiological response to assault.

“It is possible for men to get aroused and ejaculate when being assaulted,” Bullock said. “What’s particularly bewildering for the males is that if they ejaculated or were aroused during the assault, it adds a layer of shame or confusion in their culpability of their own victimization.”

Men also have difficulty with the language of sexual assault, according to Jim Hopper, instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and a founding board member of 1in6.

“There are words like ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ that are hard to identify with, especially for men,” Hopper said. “For many men, they don’t want to be a ‘victim’ because it’s antithetical to what it means to be a real man.”

friend of Malone’s at Amherst, who identified himself as Eric for this article, said he was raped by his freshman-year roommate. After feeling dissatisfied with the school’s handling of his case, Eric attempted suicide by overdosing on Benadryl, but it didn’t work.

“I remember waking up to [my roommate] kissing the back of my neck, and I feel his erect dick behind me,” Eric recalled. “I turn around and am like, ‘What are you doing?’ And he says, ‘What are you doing in my room?’ And I said, ‘No, dude, you’re in my bed.’”

Eric feels he was targeted because of his sexuality. “I was very open about being gay, so I think that’s a big part of it; he assaulted me because he knew I was gay,” Eric said. “After that I felt like I couldn’t be as out as I was. He thought that was an invitation.”

Andrew, who identifies as queer, believes it’s more difficult for people to talk about queer victims of assault. “They don’t want to think that queer people exist to begin with, so the idea that sexual assault happens in those communities is something people don’t want to talk about,” he said. “There are some people who also believe [sexual assault] is punishment or retribution for being queer.”

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found about 40 percent of gay men, 47 percent of bisexual men and 21 percent of heterosexual men in the U.S. “have experienced sexual violence other than rape at some point in their lives.”

Bullock says gay men are often targets of sexual assault because of gay-bashing, or because of conflicted feelings about the assailant’s own attraction to other men in which they are “exorcising their internalized homophobia.”

And since the LGBTQ community is often perceived as promiscuous, it can be difficult for victims to come forward.

“The sentiment I hear the most and feel the most is that because we’re being open about our sexuality, when someone assaults us it’s not an assault,” Eric said. “Like, ‘Oh you were kind of asking for it,’ or ‘Are you surprised you got assaulted?’”

Eric struggled at Amherst in the immediate aftermath of his assault, eventually dropping out when the administration allowed his assailant to remain on campus. After leaving college, he joined the military and became an engineer. He’s feeling optimistic about what’s next, but he still feels the impact of what happened to him.

“You know ‘Carry That Weight’?” he asked, referring to Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz’s campaign to raise awareness of college sexual assault by carrying a mattress around campus until her rapist is expelled. “How I imagine carrying my weight is physical weight. I actually gained a lot of weight, and part of that was intentional. It’s comforting for me being heavier and less looked at as a sex object. In my life I want to be smart, I want to finish college, I want to be good at my job. But I don’t want to be attractive.”

According to Marsh, Eric’s sentiment is typical of both male and female victims.

“The idea that they don’t want any type of attention, or anything remotely resembling sexual advances,” Marsh said. “I think there’s a fear that this could happen again. And if they make themselves so unappealing, they won’t get hurt the way they’ve been hurt before.”

Like many other victims, Eric doesn’t think the punishment for sexual assault at colleges is sufficient.

“If we treated rape the way we treated plagiarism on college campuses, there would be minimal rape,” Eric insisted. “They expel people all the time for plagiarism.”

However, punishment for rape is just one part of the solution. LaPore, founder of 1in6, believes resources need to be more easily accessible for men, including the way clinics and programs are named and advertised. “If we could become willing to be inclusive, we would see more men willing to come forward and say we would like some help,” he said.

Michael Rose, who was in the same coed fraternity as Andrew at Brown, believes the role of bystanders is also integral. “Making sure every space is a safe space” is important, he said. “If more people can be trained as bystanders, and feel comfortable intervening. That’s huge.”

Rose was surprised when Andrew told him about the assault. Despite Rose’s involvement in Brown’s Sexual Assault Peer Education program, Andrew was the first male survivor he had met.

“We were just together in the lounge and we had been talking about consensual sex and life on campus, and he mentioned to me he’d been assaulted his first semester,” Rose said. “I was shocked at first. You never want it to happen, but especially not to someone you know.”

Rose was one of the first people Andrew told about his assault. He told his parents about it the following summer and came out as a survivor to his friends on Facebook during his junior year, when he participated in an online campaign for sexual assault survivors called Project Unbreakable.

He also participated in “Carry That Weight” in solidarity with Sulkowicz’s campaign by carrying a stall door, since his assault occurred in a bathroom.

Both experiences helped Andrew in his healing process. Upon sharing his story, he received encouragement from his friends and family. “My parents were pretty supportive,” he said. “They reiterated the points that I was still valuable and it had no impact on how they thought of me.”

Andrew is now a senior at Brown. He’s finishing his concentration in Urban Studies, writing a thesis on suburban poverty and completing an applied music program. A sign on his dorm door reads, “Hi! Come talk to me about sexual assault, consent, relationships or really anything.”

Walking along the campus green, Andrew seems energized. He talks about the campus buildings and how they provide a great microcosm for exploring urban planning. Specifically, he likes to think about transportation and how it connects people.

As Andrew passes the auditorium where he had his freshman orientation on sexual assault, he says he wants to continue advocating for sexual assault victims. He believes telling his story could make a difference, especially for men. “There are a lot of male survivors who haven’t found someone they can relate to,” he said. “I want to break the silence, and I want other men to know that they’re not alone.”

Victim blaming needs to stop

7 Things We Need to Stop Saying to Sexual Assault Survivors Immediately, via Everyday Feminism

(Trigger Warning: Sexual violence)

Editor’s Note: This piece focuses largely on the experiences of sexual violence perpetrated by men against women. However, Everyday Feminism recognizes that all people can be perpetrators and survivors of sexual violence.

Originally published on Mic and cross-posted here with their permission.

This just in: Rape is in no way, shape, or form a “learning experience.”

Yet that’s exactly how Susan Patton, aka “Princeton Mom,” described it on air during a CNN interview on Thursday.

Brought on to discuss campus sexual assault, she grossly mischaracterized being raped while drunk as “a learning experience” and “a clumsy hookup melodrama.”

Patton is but one recent example of “high-profile” commentary gone wrong.

Recently, highly publicized cases – such as the Rolling Stone-University of Virginia debacle, Lena Dunham’s revelations, and the mounting Bill Cosby allegations – have exposed the vast discrepancies between people’s perceptions and the reality of rape.

But for most survivors, it doesn’t take a media spotlight to beget insensitive, uninformed, and downright erroneous remarks about sexual assault.

It’s something they face every day. Here are some things we should stop saying to survivors – immediately:

1. ‘What Were You Wearing?’

This question is a classic, if not ubiquitous, victim-blaming approach.

Time and again, survivors are asked what they were wearing at the time of their assault, implying they were “asking for it.”

Newsflash: The cause of rape is 100% rapists, not clothing choices.

In March 2014, Twitter user @Steenfox addressed this issue when she asked followers what they were wearing at the time of their assaults. The responses clearly demonstrate the irrelevance of fashion when it comes to rape.

At its core, rape is about power and control, not sex or attraction; the common claim of a woman “luring” or “enticing” her rapist with an outfit is absurd.

Furthermore, the idea that a woman who is dressed a certain way is somehow responsible for her own assault isn’t just inaccurate, it creates a class system of women and girls who are more “rapeable.”

2. ‘You Shouldn’t Have Been Drinking’

Like its clothing counterpart above, this is another favorite catchphrase of victim-blamers, particularly in the context of college sexual assaults, where partying is often the pretext for rape.

But people are not raped or assaulted because they’re drinking or drunk. Rather, as one expert quoted in USA Today said, “People get raped because there is a perpetrator there — someone who wants to take advantage of them.”

In fact, a 2001 research report found that while alcohol consumption and sexual assault often co-occur, “the desire to commit a sexual assault may actually cause alcohol consumption (e.g., when a man drinks alcohol before committing a sexual assault in order to justify his behavior).”

Perhaps it’s time to start looking at alcohol as a date rape drug instead of an excuse to justify or shrug off sexual assault.

3. ‘But They’re Your Partner – That’s Not Rape, That’s Sex’

Despite the myth that “real” rape is only committed by strangers, statistics say otherwise.

According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), 73% of rapists are non-strangers.

Specifically, 38% of rapists are the survivor’s friend or acquaintance, 28% are intimate partners, and 7% are family members.

The bottom line: Any unwanted sexual contact is assault, no matter who is perpetrating it.

4. ‘You Should Have Reported It’

Despite being ranked by the FBI as the second most violent crime, behind murder, rape is among the most underreported crimes nationally, with 60% of rapes going unreported.

According to RAINN, there are several reasons why survivors are reluctant to report their assaults. In their report, they state:

“The most common reason given by [survivors] (23%) is that the rape is a ‘personal matter.’ Another 16% of [survivors] say that they fear reprisal, while about 6% don’t report because they believe that the police are biased.”

Even when a rape is reported, only 3 out of 100 rapists will ever serve a day in prison, a bleak statistic that may also discourage survivors from reporting.

At the end of the day, it’s vital that we support survivors in their decisions whether or not to report their assaults. Only they can make that call.

5. ‘Why Didn’t You Fight Back Harder?’

Last month, the FBI finally updated its definition of rape, removing the word “forcible” to recognize that not all assault survivors are physically overcome by their rapists.

There are several instances in which survivors might be raped and either don’t or can’t fight off attackers.

For example, they may be drugged or otherwise mentally incapacitated, in fear for their lives, outnumbered, or experiencing tonic immobility – a response to trauma in which a person freezes.

6. ‘Are You Sure You Don’t Just Regret Having Sex with Him?’

If a women has sex with a man, regrets it, and cries rape, that constitutes a false allegation — which is extremely rare, despite men’s rights activists’ claims that this practice is endemic.

In fact, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), only 2% to 8% of rape reports are false.

However, as the NSVRC points out, false reports are not necessarily the same as false allegations: “Investigators, prosecutors, and others often decide that a sexual assault did not happen based simply on their own views of the [survivor], the suspect, and their credibility.”

A man has a greater chance (1 in 33) of becoming a rape survivor himself than being falsely accused of raping someone.

7. ‘But You’re a Guy — You Can’t Be Raped’

This simply is not true.

While the vast majority of rape survivors are women, approximately 3% of American men — 2.78 million — have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetimes.

Despite this, many men are reluctant to acknowledge, let alone report, their attacks.

According to research published in Psychology of Men & Masculinity in July 2014, “the majority of men who have experienced something that would qualify as child sexual abuse or adult rape based on research definitions do not label their experiences as sexual abuse or rape.”

Perhaps this is driven by a fear of being called gay, weak, or “less of a man,” but regardless, it is important that we believe and support male survivors.

Disclosing a sexual assault to your children

‘I need to tell you something’: How survivors of sexual assault tell their children, via The Washington Post:

They were sitting in a car outside a Home Goods store in Savannah, Ga., and the conversation was not going the way Jenny Lynn Anderson planned. And she had planned. Anderson is pragmatic that way. That’s how her mother – the lawyer, judge, trailblazer — raised her, and Anderson intended to bring up her daughters in the same mold: independent, self-assured, strong.

Once that foundation was set, Anderson decided, she would tell them.When I was in my 20s, I was sexually assaulted.  Calm, no-nonsense. An outline. Details if they asked. That she eventually would tell them was never a question in her mind. She could not protect them as they made their way through the world, but she could educate them. She could give them the tools she didn’t have. She could teach them something about another form of strength: resilience.

Sixteen might be a good age, Anderson thought. But when the youngest, Allison, turned 16, Anderson decided no, this one is not ready. I’ll wait. But there Anderson was one day, sitting in the car outside the store, fighting a panic attack brought on by the sight of a lone man standing in the parking lot. There she was, telling Allison, “Wait, don’t unlock the door.” To watch her puzzled daughter follow her gaze, turn to look at the man, a black man, and say, “Mama, you are such a racist.”

No, Anderson said, stunned, suddenly crying, which was definitely not part of the plan. That’s not why I am afraid of that man.

“Allison, I need to tell you something.”

****

In the leapfrog from headline to headline on sexual assault, from slogan to slogan — yes means yes, not alone, it’s on us — public awareness waxes and wanes. What endures are the inner battles among parents who have been sexually assaulted and who do not engage in the public discussion as an abstraction, but as a prompt. Should I tell my kids what happened to me? How and to what end?

These are the most private of conversations, the unseen backdrop of the public dialogue on sexual assault. A mother – or a father – telling a child: All this you are reading about it, all this you are hearing, it happened to me. Someone hurt me when I was young. Took from me what was not theirs to take. You need to know this about me. You need to know this about life.

“This happened to me, and it wasn’t my fault, and there are ways to prevent it from happening to you,” Cynthia Brown, 53, of Marietta, Ga., told her daughter. Her daughter was 17, nearly the same age at which Brown was raped in 1980. Brown’s attacker was convicted. “I grew up ‘Father Knows Best,’ ‘Brady Bunch,’ life is a bowl of cherries —  and it’s not.”

Dawn Helmrich, 42, of Milwaukee, was abducted and sexually assaulted at gunpoint by three teenagers when she was 21. The eldest of the three, a 17-year-old, pleaded guilty to rape, kidnapping and armed robbery. The younger two juveniles were sentenced to juvenile facilities.

“When I first had kids, I questioned why I would even want to tell them? I thought, ‘Are you doing this for you or for them?’” she said.

“I think, in the beginning, I thought of it almost like an absolution. I wanted to absolve myself of the guilt I felt. I thought, ‘If I tell them, and they think I’m stupid or I did something wrong, at least they will get it off their chest, and I will move on.’

“But as I got older and a little wiser, I changed my perspective. I thought, ‘How empowering it can be for them to know the kind of resiliency that is within them. Here I am. Their mom. I got married. I own a home. I got a Master’s degree. I teach at a college, and I have a full-time career. I did all these things. Despite what happened. It became more about finding them the message that is basically, ‘You know what? A lot of stuff happens in life . . . and sometimes you have to scoop yourself off the ground.’”

These are the moments of quiet revelation far from the headlines. The conversations that parents choose to have with their children are as different as the individuals recounting them, as different as the experiences with sexual assault. But parents who tell their children often say they do so from the understanding that all parents come to: They will not always be there to protect their children from those who would do them harm, and so their children must learn to protect themselves. And so, they seek to educate them, to prepare them to be vigilant in the most honest way they know how.

They teach them to listen to themselves. “You get a weird feeling, you trust it,” Laurie Stevens, from San Fernando Valley, Calif., who was drugged and raped by an acquaintance when she was a college student, told her daughter, a high school senior. “That intuition is your umbilical cord to God, and you honor it.”

They teach their children to listen to others.

“One of the things that is hardest for survivors is not to hate themselves, to not blame themselves,” said Patricia Miller of Portales, N.M. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she is a moderator for the 78,000 member Pandora’s Aquarium, an international online forum and chat room for survivors of sexual assault and abuse. “I wanted to prepare my children to have compassion and empathy. I would tell them, ‘Look around whatever room you are in and know that one in every five women will be sexually assaulted and one in six men. People you know will be hurt, and they will need to have folks around who will listen to them with open hearts.”

They teach them that in talking about the hurt, they rob it of its power.

***

They come to the conversations in different ways. Miller told her children over time, giving them just the information she thought they could understand and handle as they grew older. Did you ever think you were going to die and go to heaven, asks her son after his appendix burst. Yes, she said, and tells him a little of a father around whom she felt she could never be safe.

They circle around it for years with advice on never drinking from an open bottle, on being alert, on being active bystanders. For 30 years, Stevens carried around fragmented memories of an assault by a student in one of her classes. She wasn’t drunk, just one moment she was present doing homework and the next she was far away and watching him disrobe her. Oh, him, another former classmate would say many years later, he got in trouble for drugging and raping women. Stevens started researching date-rape drugs for a series of psychological suspense novels she was writing. It all came together.

Did you ever get him arrested? Did you report him? Her daughter asked when Stevens told her the details earlier this month. No, it was not rape as I understood rape then. It wasn’t violent, Stevens answered, and thinks: I hunkered down. I was ashamed.

What is his name, her son, now in college, demanded, shaken and angry. Where is he? She will not tell him.

Decades later, they have triggers. Loud noises. Don’t ever come up behind mom unannounced. I don’t care if it’s a squirt gun, no guns, no gun-like toys, in the house.

At a crowded Milwaukee street fair, Dawn Helmrich suffers a panic attack and her 10-year-old daughter takes her hand and leads her from the crowd, comforting her, and then asking, ‘Mom, when are you going to tell me what happened to you?”

“HOW EMPOWERING IT CAN BE FOR THEM TO KNOW THE KIND OF RESILIENCY THAT IS WITHIN THEM. HERE I AM. THEIR MOM. I GOT MARRIED. I OWN A HOME. I GOT A MASTER’S DEGREE. I TEACH AT A COLLEGE AND I HAVE A FULL-TIME CAREER. I DID ALL THESE THINGS. DESPITE WHAT HAPPENED.”

— Dawn Helmrich

She told her children the whole story this year when they were 11 and 13, younger than she might have planned. But by then, she had become involved in victim advocacy and had organized Milwaukee’s participation in  Denim Day USA, a sexual violence prevention and education campaign. When her advocacy was recognized with a community award, she and her husband decided their children should know why.

“They asked a lot of questions, and when I finished, they both got up and said, ‘Mom, you have so much courage, and you are so brave, and we are so proud of you,’” Helmrich said.

Both have since become young advocates in their own right.

***

In the car, outside the Home Goods store in Savannah, with a teenage daughter she thought still too sensitive to hear her story, Anderson regains her composure. A matter-of-fact tone enters her voice. She says: “When I was 27 years old, I was on business trip, staying in a downtown Atlanta hotel. I was walking out of my door, room 939, to go to the elevator. A man captured me in the hallway. He pulled a knife out and despite my fighting him and my screaming, he was more powerful, and he pushed me back into the room, and he robbed me first, and then he sexually assaulted me.”

She says she tricked him into thinking her marketing director was coming to the room, and when he cracked open the door, “my eyes locked on a housekeeper in the hallway, and I started screaming.” The man fled, and Anderson called hotel security. But her perpetrator escaped.

Like her older sister, Morgan, Allison listened to the story, wide-eyed and somber.  “I didn’t think she was ready, but she was,” Anderson said. “And once I told them, I was totally an open book with them and with their friends. I brought it up. I wanted them to understand there was no shame in what happened to me. It was not my fault.”

In the three years since, Anderson has gone on to speak publicly to more than 100 groups about her experience. In 2011, she published “Room 939, 15 minutes of horror, 20 years of healing,” on how she reclaimed her life after her assault.

That day in the car with Allison, Anderson said, “the greatest thing that I wanted to leave with her was that there was courage, courage like my mother had, and courage would win the day. In the end, good will win over evil. They have to believe good prevails, and I believe it does. But you have to have courage.”

That man in the parking lot scared me, Anderson told Allison, but we are going to get out of this car, and we are going to go into that store, and we are going to complete what we came here to do.

Which is exactly what mother and daughter did.

Dealing with rape on college campuses

Finally dealing with campus rape means that some men will have it tougher, via The Guardian, written by Jessica Valenti:

The epidemic levels of rape on university campuses has a lot of people really worried. Unfortunately, they’re worried that campuses are going “too far” in their effort to punish rapists; that young men will be wrongly accused; that campus sex policies will criminalize consensual sex; that the rape epidemic is more ideological rhetoric than actual lived experience.

They are worried, it seems, that stopping campus rape and helping the victims of it – most of whom are women – will hurt young men.

It seems odd that, at a moment when we’re finally making headway on campus assault – with White House-backed initiatives, rape victims sharing their stories, and students mobilizing to make their campuses safer and more responsive to sexual violence – the response from some quarters is to worry for men’s futures rather than celebrate women’s potential safety.

No one wants to see innocent people accused of horrible crimes, but there is a distinct lack of evidence that young men on college campuses – even the ones who have raped women – are suffering any harm due to the increased focus on ending rape.

Rape remains a chronically underreported crime, and only 2% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. On college campuses, only 10 to 25% of rapists are expelled, less than half are suspended and many are given university-mandated “punishments” like writing a research paper or an apology letter.

So why the ramped-up concerns for men?

Maybe it’s that we’re not used to seeing gender justice in action, so it feels strange and new … and therefore off. Alexandra Brodsky, a co-director of anti-rape organization Know Your IX, compared the situation to someone who has unwittingly been living in an apartment with a tilted floor their whole life.

“You become used to that, so if you wake up one day and your floor is level, it’s going to feel uneven,” she told me.

Others, like Tracey Vitchers of Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER) believe the renewed focus on accused rapists’ rights is simple denial. “It comes from not wanting to believe that campus sexual assault is as prevalent as survivors, advocates and, frankly, research, demonstrate it to be”, Vitchers told me.

I also believe that the disproportionate worry for accused rapists over their victims boils down to a fundamental distrust of women. It is less worry that men will be wrongly accused, and more a lasting, ill-informed “certainty” that women lie about rape. After all, the most controversial news story of campus rape this year – an irresponsibly-reported assault alleged by a student at the University of Virginia – didn’t even involve a young man was brought up on campus or criminal charges. The public outrage stemmed from the belief that the woman lied about her attack.

The rape truthers’ belief that any increasing efforts to stop rape and hold more accusers accountable will hurt innocent men is, at best, magical thinking. While multiple female rape victims at 89 different colleges have filed suits citing Title IX violations and unfair treatment by school administrators, there has not been one recent public case of a wrongly-accused male student who suffered significant, permanent legal harm at the hands of a malicious accuser. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to identify one, though.

The man accused of sexually assaulting two students and then raping Emma Sulkowictz – the Columbia University student who started the “Carry that Weight” performance protest – has tried appealing to anti-feminist media to claim his life was ruined, though no mainstream media published or broadcast his name until he came forward. And Columbia found the man not responsible, allowing him to remain on campus. A Washington Post column late last year fretted about the dangers of campus sexual assault policies for young men, yet focused on the case of a young man who was also found not responsible. How did the system fail him, exactly?

The concerns over due process in campus adjudication procedures are also misplaced. In The New York Times, Judith Shulevitz bemoans the Department of Education guidelines that instruct schools to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard in rape cases, as if such a thing is unheard of. But this is the same standard of evidence that’s required when a rape victim sues her attacker in civil court. Shulevitz also warns that schools risk losing federal funds if they don’t adhere to the DOE’s rules, but no school has ever had their funding taken away because of a Title IX violation.

Too many of us are more comfortable taking on imaginary problems rather than real ones – but reflexive thought experiments don’t stop rape or address the real underlying problems. They only do a disservice to the victims.

TV show Switched at Birth addresses campus sexual assault

ABC Family’s Campus Rape Story line Goes Where Scripted Television Hasn’t Gone Before, via BuzzFeed:

The anger directed at HBO’s The Newsroom in December in the wake of an episode that attempted to capitalize on the debate surrounding the scourge of college sexual assault crystallized the complexity of emotions surrounding the very complicated issue plaguing campuses nationwide. At the time, the Rolling Stone/UVA debacle was dominating headlines — a magazine story that was meant to serve as crusading journalism, peeling back the lid of insidious behavior at the Virginia university and bringing awareness of the situation to a larger audience, instead had the opposite effect as the story’s factual basis was attacked and the magazine backed away from supporting the writer. Any platform that the story could have provided rape victims — particularly those on college campuses — was undone, and the piece itself has become a watchword for reckless reporting and a lack of fact-checking. In the months that followed, the conversation continued, especially when two 2015 Sundance Film Festival projects dealt with campus rape: Kirby Dick’s The Hunting Ground and Morris May and Rose Troche’s interactive Perspective. There is something in the air at the moment — the discourse and epidemic are reaching a boiling point.

The latest entrée into the conversation is, on the surface, a surprising one: A teen television show waded into the murky waters of campus rape narratives in its Feb. 3 episode. But that teen series, ABC Family’s groundbreaking Switched at Birth, has never been one to shy away from potentially explosive issues of race, class, or the hearing/deaf divide (many of its main characters are deaf or hard-of-hearing and the show has embraced the use of American Sign Language and closed captioning). The teen drama, created by Lizzy Weiss, might have initially been about the ramifications of two families — one white and wealthy, the other Latina and struggling to get by — learning that their daughters had been switched at the hospital as babies. But in the four seasons since, it’s evolved into a canny exploration of communication, expression, and identity.

There’s a reason the particular issue of campus rape is one that is poignant forSwitched’s deaf and hard-of-hearing characters — and why it’s fitting now. Last year, the Washington Post ran a story about the climbing rates of campus rape and the belief among university administrators that “robust reporting” could contribute to preventing these crimes in the future. The university with the highest rates of reporting forcible sex offenses proved to be Gallaudet University, which saw “more than 11 per thousand students in 2012.” Gallaudet also happens to house the nation’s premier deaf education program, and the university’s dean of student affairs and academic support pointed toward the resources available — “direct access in terms of communication and language with on-campus personnel without requiring the need for an interpreter” — as the reason for the higher overall numbers and reporting rates.

Switched at Birth has long looked toward Gallaudet and deaf history and culture for inspiration for its storylines. Though it’s unclear whether the Post’s reporting played a role for Weiss and the writing staff in penning the Jan. 27 episode, the installment saw Bay Kennish (Vanessa Marano) waking up after a drunken night in the bed of her ex-boyfriend Tank (Max Adler), her clothes scattered on the floor. In the Feb. 3 episode, Bay struggles to recall the events of the night before, wondering whether she had cheated on her long-distance boyfriend, Emmett (Sean Berdy), by possibly drunkenly sleeping with her ex. But more troublingly, she is uncertain about whether she consented to having sex with Tank or not in the first place.

It’s Bay’s birth mother Regina (Constance Marie) who first utters the r-word — noting that if a woman is drunk, she cannot actually give consent, and that any consent given while impaired isn’t actually consent. It’s a shock to Bay, and to the viewer, really, to hear such an open discussion on such a controversial subject on a teen drama — but it’s important that this is a conversation happening on a show geared toward a younger demographic. All too often, rape gets swept under the rug or is used as a means to an end to look at victim culture or false accusations or something different altogether; on Switched, however, though it’s used for a narrative, it’s also instructive and educational. Regina’s lines are uttered with such certain sincerity that the moment, like many others on this series, isn’t saccharine or forced, but significant.

Typically, sexual assault storylines play out with strangers, their repercussions barely, if at all, glimpsed. A recent episode of The Good Wife looked at the epidemic through the lens of a college disciplinary board following a student accusing another of rape, taking its title (“The Red Zone”) from the most dangerous time of year for sexual assault against first-year female students. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), representing the victim, flicks at the specter of Title IX, saying that the university could open itself up to a lawsuit under the U.S. Code for gender discrimination in education. But the rape didn’t happen to Alicia’s son Zach (Graham Phillips) or her daughter Grace (Makenzie Vega) — and while the episode was powerfully rendered and meticulously constructed, there was an inherent narrative distance between the topic and the framework of the show; it was a case to be won or lost by Alicia, and while it drew upon real-life inspiration, it ultimately doesn’t change the direction of the show or any of the central characters.

That’s not the case with Switched at Birth. As Bay goes back and forth about whether she consented to sleep with Tank, the show shifts between each of their perspectives — hers increasingly inebriated, his equally drunk — which differ in small but meaningful ways. Did she kiss him? Did he kiss her? Did she push him away? And if she didn’t, did it mean that she was actually able to give her consent?When Bay confronts Tank about her lack of clarity regarding the events of the previous night, he is horrified by what she is implying: that he took advantage of her, that he assaulted her, that he raped her. They were both drunk, he bellows, and he would never do anything like that. Tank is not a stranger to Bay or the audience: He’s been presented previously as a “good guy.” Which is precisely the point.

The plot doesn’t wrap up neatly after one episode; in fact, there’s a simmering level of anger, fear, and distress that threatens to boil over in next week’sSwitched, even as Bay says she doesn’t want to do anything about what happened, that she just wants it to go away. But Bay’s brother Toby (Lucas Grabeel) — who is also Tank’s roommate — tells his girlfriend Lily (Rachel Shenton) about what happened… and Lily is an administrator at the university, meaning she has a legal obligation to bring the situation to the disciplinary board. It looks like Bay’s hope that this just goes away will soon be evaporating completely.

But that’s because this storyline is realistically messy and fraught — it’s painful and profound, showing a night that Bay deeply regrets. Of course, regretting that something happened does not mean accepting responsibility for it — andSwitched carefully threads its narrative here, placing the blame for what may have happened on Tank for having sex with Bay when she was clearly too drunk to actually give her legal consent.

That this is all playing out in a show that so many teenagers (and adults) are watching is important for so many reasons. The ultimate irony is that this ABC Family teen drama is doing a far better job of tackling this difficult topic than its allegedly more hard-hitting and award-winning adult counterparts — and that, thankfully, means those in the audience who may soon be college-bound themselves are actually watching.

Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on ABC Family.

Kassie Edwards reported her rape. But that was before the attention on U-Va. or Cosby, via The Washington Post:

Kassie Edwards reported her rape. It wasn’t much of a decision, really.

She was attacked on Halloween 2008. Two months earlier, Edwards had transferred to Florida State University to be an African American studies major, with dreams of eventually working at one of the Smithsonian museums. Soon after arriving on campus, she was assigned a work-study job at the university library.

She had the 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift that day, and just before noon, she took the elevator to the third floor to restock shelves. It was dark until she walked out and triggered the motion-detector lights.

That was when she noticed a young man with bloodshot eyes standing very still in the lobby. No one else was around. She was pushing her cart down an aisle when he came up to her from behind, took her in a chokehold and wrestled her to the ground.

“Don’t say nothing,” he told her, indicating that there was a gun in the pouch of his hooded sweatshirt. She was afraid to scream but remained conscious throughout the attack. When the man was done, he pulled up his pants and instructed her to count to 100 before she got up — warning that if she didn’t, he would come back for her.

The backlash against women who have raised sexual-assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, including Victoria Valentino, left, and Barbara Bowman, could intimidate other women who have been sexually assaulted, Edwards says. (Left: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Rigjht: Erin O’Connor for The Washington Post)
Edwards counted to five, heard the sound of shuffling papers and ran to find a co-worker. Within minutes, Tallahassee police were at the library.

She didn’t cry until later. Until after the rape kit was administered at the hospital and a detective had taken her statement. Then her roommates took her home. “And I didn’t know what to do but just cry. I felt like my life had changed,” says Edwards, now 28.

Today, more than six years after the attack, Edwards is a victim advocate and speaker with the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She sat down for an interview at an apartment in Laurel, Md., where she has lived for two months and which overlooks the woods. Tall and outgoing, she now speaks of the rape with a matter-of-fact calmness. She feels it’s especially important to be vocal about her experience, in light of the avalanche of media attention that high-profile sexual assault cases have received in recent months.

She stayed in her room for much of the week after the attack, she says, and when she did emerge, she shuddered at the sight of every man in a hooded sweatshirt, wondering whether each one was her attacker.

Edwards had never known anyone who said they had been raped, and she had never thought that it would happen to her. But something happened as she talked to her friends about the attack. They started talking back — about their own experiences with sexual assault.

“I learned about all my friends who had been raped before, which I would never have known about because they were afraid to come forward. And these were close friends,” she says. “There’s a veil of shame about being raped.”

Rape and doubt
Two months after the attack, Edwards’s rapist was caught. He had raped two other women and then murdered his girlfriend. Edwards wrote a letter to be read at his sentencing. “I’ve forgiven you,” she wrote. “I hope you will live the rest of your life making the right choices.”

Her assailant, who was not a Florida State student, is serving life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Edwards doesn’t think about him much anymore. She finished college — had a great deal of fun and had her heart broken. She healed her wounds through prayer and counseling and poetry.

And whenever the opportunity arose, she talked about what had happened — to the media, to her friends, to audiences at spoken-word open-mike nights. She talks because it’s helpful to her, but more than that, because she hopes it will be helpful to others. “To give them inspiration to be more inclined to report crimes that happened to them,” she says. “Especially rape.”

And at this moment, her advocacy work feels more urgent than ever. The past year has shone a bright light on the issues surrounding crimes against women — first there were the accusations against quarterback Jameis Winston at Edwards’s alma mater. Then came Ray Rice, and the University of Virginia story in Rolling Stone, and the multiplying number of women coming forward to say that Bill Cosby once drugged and assaulted them. And unfortunately, Edwards thinks, the sum result is that it may now be more difficult for women to come forward than ever before — especially if their attacker is someone previously known to them.

“Legislatively we’ve made it easier for rape victims, but culturally I think we’re taking a couple steps back,” says Edwards, who works at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Although it didn’t happen in her case, Edwards says she has learned that one of the biggest problems is that people “tend to doubt the rape victims’ stories. They tend to blame the victim or they don’t believe them, instead of saying, ‘Oh, how could somebody do this?’ ”

Edwards fears that the backlash against women who have come forward — especially the Cosby accusers, whose motives have been questioned — will dissuade others from taking the same step. “Because they’ve seen how the victims are being portrayed,” she says. “It’s good that we’re talking about it, but the conversation is not steered in a positive light.”

Her message to victims is this: “It’s not something you could’ve prevented. It’s not about you being a weak person. It’s about somebody who doesn’t have control over their greed and their desire for power.”

She encourages victims to tell someone about what happened, although she knows that’s often a much more complicated endeavor than it was for her. “It’s about what feels comfortable for them and exploring all the avenues before making the ultimate decision not to report. Whether it’s reporting it to an anonymous hotline or friend or advocate or going to counseling.” By reporting the crime, she says, they may be able to prevent it from happening to someone else.

Moving forward
Edwards says that her initial fear — that her life would be forever damaged because of the assault — has proved not to be true. “Going through that experience just made me a stronger person,” she says.

The advocacy work in particular has added new depth and meaning to her life. But mostly she has just stayed on track, knowing that nothing — and no one — has the power to knock her off course.

In the coming weeks, Edwards will start a new job — at the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Cee-Lo Green loses performance after rape comments

Cee-Lo Green Pulled From Military Base Performance, via Jezebel

After his atrocious Twitter comments about rape and subsequent terrible apology, Cee-Lo Green has been cut from the performance line-up of a concert at a D.C. navy base. It seems concert organizers realized that having someone who has allegedly drugged and raped a woman and then complained about it was not the right person to appear at a military facility, when the military is struggling to prove it has a handle on its own sexual assault issues.

Freedom LIVE – the name for the programming presented by the Naval District Washington (NDW)’s portion of the military’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) department, which is currently in its first season – announced Thursday evening they had removed Cee-Lo from the line-up of their September 20th show with Little Big Town at the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in D.C. They wrote on their Facebook page:

We seek a Department-wide culture of gender dignity and respect where sexual assault is completely eliminated and never tolerated, where sexual assault victims receive compassionate and coordinated support, and where offenders are held appropriately accountable.

Unfortunately, one of the performers we signed for the JBAB Freedom Live show on 20 September recently posted comments on social media that we consider to completely inconsistent with Navy core values. Regardless of intent or context, the lack of sensitivity towards an issue that is one of the great challenges facing our Navy is unacceptable.

As a result, we have made the decision to pull CeeLo Green from the Freedom Live event on 20 September. Little Big Town, the main attraction for the event, will still perform as scheduled. We will announce as soon as possible a replacement opening act of the high quality that you expect and deserve.

After Cee-Lo’s original appearance was announced and his tweets were sent and deleted, one veteran told Jezebel he sent a complaint about the performance to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office at the Department of Defense, though it’s unclear how many other people complained. The comments on the Facebook post about the cancellation are almost universally positive.

Image via Ethan Miller/Getty

Making a visual statement for change

Columbia University student will carry her mattress everywhere as long as her rapist remains on campus, via feministing:

Watch her video interview HERE.

Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz was raped in her dorm bed at the beginning of her junior year. Now, for her senior visual arts thesis, Sulkowicz is carrying her mattress with her everywhere she goes as long as she attends the same school as her rapist.

As she explains in the video about her project above, “The piece could potentially take a day, or it could go on until I graduate. For me, it’s an endurance performance arts piece.”

Sulkowicz’s rapist has been accused of sexual assault by two other women at Columbia but remains on campus. Sulkowicz has described in detail the terrible, incompetent hearing process she went through trying to get justice from Columbia, and was one of the students who filed a federal Title IX complaint accusing the school of mishandling sexual assault cases. Later, she reported her rape to the police — an experience which illustrated pretty much exactly why many survivors are reluctant to do so.

The mattress is an apt physical symbol of the weigh Sulkowicz has carried with her while sharing her campus with her rapist for a year. “A mattress is the perfect size for me to just be able to carry it enough that I can continue with my day, but also heavy enough that I have to continually struggle with it,” she explains. It also represents the way she’s been speaking out about her experience. “We keep [beds] in our bedroom, which is our intimate and private space… The past year or so of my life has been really marked by telling people what happened in that most intimate, private space and bringing it out into the light.”

Alcohol is the number 1 ‘date rape drug’…

Why Rape Prevention Activists Don’t Like The New Nail Polish That Can Detect Roofies, via Think Progress

 A group of four college students is taking the media by storm with the development of aninnovative nail polish that can detect date rape drugs that have been slipped into young women’s drinks. While the new product has captured its fair share of headlines over the past week, sexual assault prevention advocates warn that it’s not necessarily the best way to approach the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses.

Four male students at North Carolina State University have created a nail polish that changes color when it comes into contact with several common drugs intended to incapacitate victims. According to the undergrads, their goal is to “invent technologies that empower women to protect themselves from this heinous and quietly pervasive crime.” Although the product isn’t available yet, their Facebook page has already been flooded with positive responses from people who can’t wait to give it a try.

The response isn’t entirely unprecedented. Products that promise to help women detect the colorless, odorless “roofie” drugs have become more popular in recent years. And more broadly, anti-rape tools to help women protect themselves from potential predators have become increasingly prevalent.

Although these products typically get a lot of press and are sometimes hailed as complete breakthroughs in the fight against sexual violence — “Soon, a fresh manicure could have the potential to save your life,” the Daily Mail proclaimed in a story about the new nail polish — activists working in the field aren’t convinced. They believe innovations like anti-rape nail polish are well-meaning but ultimately misguided.

“I think that anything that can help reduce sexual violence from happening is, in some ways, a really good thing,” Tracey Vitchers, the board chair for Students Active For Ending Rape(SAFER), told ThinkProgress. “But I think we need to think critically about why we keep placing the responsibility for preventing sexual assault on young women.”

Women are already expected to work hard to prevent themselves from becoming the victims of sexual assault. They’re told to avoid wearing revealing clothing, travel in groups, make sure they don’t get too drunk, and always keep a close eye on their drink. Now, remembering to put on anti-rape nail polish and discreetly slip a finger into each drink might be added to that ever-growing checklist — something that actually reinforces a pervasive rape culture in our society.

“One of the ways that rape is used as a tool to control people is by limiting their behavior,” Rebecca Nagle, one of the co-directors of an activist group called FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture that challenges the societal norms around sexual assault, explained. “As a woman, I’m told not to go out alone at night, to watch my drink, to do all of these things. That way, rape isn’t just controlling me while I’m actually being assaulted — it controls me 24/7 because it limits my behavior. Solutions like these actually just recreate that. I don’t want to fucking test my drink when I’m at the bar. That’s not the world I want to live in.”

According to Alexandra Brodsky, one of the founders and current co-directors of Know Your IX, a survivor-led group working to address campus sexual assault, well-intentioned products like anti-rape nail polish can actually end up fueling victim blaming. Any college students who don’t use the special polish could open themselves up to criticism for failing to do everything in their power to prevent rape.

Indeed, the argument that women simply need to be more responsible is a common response to the current conversation about sexual assault on college campuses — and one that activists say doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.

“The problem isn’t that women don’t know when there are roofies in their drink; the problem is people putting roofies in their drink in the first place,” Nagle pointed out.

“I think a lot of the time we get focused on these new products because they’re innovative and they’re interesting, and it’s really cool that they figured out how to create nail polish that does this. But at the end of the day, are you having those tough conversations with students, and particularly men, who are at risk for committing sexual assault?” Vitchers added. “Are you talking to young men about the importance of respecting other people’s boundaries and understanding what it means to obtain consent?”

Activists point out that most students are assaulted by people they know in environments where they feel comfortable — situations when wearing anti-rape nail polish doesn’t necessarily make sense. Plus, the vast majority of those assaults don’t involve date rape drugs in the first place. According to a 2007 study from the National Institute for Justice, just about 2.4 percent of female undergrads who had been sexually assaulted suspected they had been slipped a drug.

So, rather than targeting efforts at helping women identify roofies in their drinks, it would likely be more effective to focus on larger efforts to tackle the cultural assumptions at the root of the campus sexual assault crisis, like the idea that it’s okay to take advantage of people when they’re drunk. There’s a lot of student-led activism on college campuses around these themes, as well as some college administrations agreeing to implement more comprehensive consent education and bystander intervention training programs. The advocates who spoke to ThinkProgress said they wish more of those campaigns would start making headlines.

“One of the reason we get so excited about these really simple fixes is because it makes us feel like the problem itself is really simple. That’s a comforting idea,” Brodsky noted. “But I really wish that people were funneling all of this ingenuity and funding and interest into new ways to stop people from perpetrating violence, as opposed to trying to personally avoid it so that the predator in the bar rapes someone else.”