By Maya Caulfield
The rubber soles of my shoes get nervous as I walk on the wet pavement. I rush through a pathway that glows in the moonlight. The dark shadows of trees press against the cool night’s sky. Get to the other side. Ominous silence smothers me as I pass a sign. Damp white letters are etched into a jagged wood slab spelling out Reed College. I turn onto a bridge, its body is lenient. It gives wherever and whenever it is pressured. I hear the distant clicking of a bicycle chain. I pick up my pace; the patter of my feet intensifies. The clicking gets louder. The gradual crescendo travels through me. I wince as the bike zooms by me. My heart beats fast. I pause.
For the twenty percent of women who get sexually assaulted on college campuses each year, this walk is not where the danger lies (Realities of Sexual Assault on Campus).
The danger is here: You feel the heat from a hundred bodies through the hot sweat on your brow. You feel alone. Music blasts in your ears. Your friends are off doing God knows what with God knows who. You fix yourself a drink hoping that may pass the time. Glancing across the rusty cart stocked with alcohol you see a man looking at you. You smile to be polite and he returns the gesture. The man walks closer and you recognize him as Thomas from your Psych class. He strikes up a conversation about exams. His close proximity causes you discomfort, but not enough that you can pinpoint why. You turn your head thinking you hear your friend off in the distance, false alarm. You turn back to the man and continue your conversation. You pick up your drink and sip. That sip is the last thing you want to remember from the night.
One out of every five college women is sexually assaulted (Realities of Sexual Assault on Campus). My cousin, my two best friends, my sister, and me — the odds say it will be one of us.
* * *
College is an exhilarating and much anticipated new beginning. However, this new beginning can be entirely tarnished in a moment. Rape culture has the power to turn the best time of a student’s academic career into the worst time of his or her life.
Rape culture is the blame placed frequently on victims of sexual assault and the constant justification and normalization of sexual violence in society (What Is Rape Culture?). Rape culture is in our houses, on our screens, and inside of ourselves. No wonder it is brought into schools. We see it in everything. “She was asking for it” is a common expression of our vulgar culture. The constant interrogation of a girl regarding what she was wearing before she was raped stems from rape culture (Maxwell). The generalization that men only want one thing perpetuates it. These behaviors and other subtle societal notions creep into ourselves thus allowing rape culture to thrive in America.
* * *
Rowan Frost immediately flashed a smile as I arrived. It was one of those smiles that you believe. Her smile made me feel like I was where I needed to be. Her smile was real. So I smiled back, for real too. She could have worked anywhere. Her soft white hair was cut to her shoulders. Her knuckles clasped the leash of her small scraggly black dog. For Frost, the Assistant Dean of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Reed College, a smile can be vital in making a survivor of sexual assault begin to feel like she belongs once again. She guided me into her, not-so-flashy, office. It is down to earth, a mirror of Rowan Frost herself.
“We live in a society that says we are going to highly sexualize you and then we are going to just blame the hell out of you when you do have sex,” Frost says. Advertisements with half naked women promote a highly sexual lifestyle, but taking charge of your own sexual autonomy is shamed. All of this is the result of rape culture.
Rape culture takes a drastic form on college campuses. So much so that 20 percent of female college students and one of every 16 male students are sexually assaulted while enrolled (Statistics about Sexual Violence). Sexual assault is a blanket like term that covers a wide range of interactions. These include groping, rape, exhibitionism, emotional abuse, and physical violence. An estimated 95 percent of sexual assaults on college campus are never reported (Realities of Sexual Assault on Campus). The truth is that on campuses the vast majority of victims know, and could even love, their attacker. Frost says that knowing your attacker plays directly into the worst effects of sexual assault. “The loss of trust. They trusted the person that sexually assaulted them. The fact that someone that they trusted could do that to them makes them unable to trust other people. It also makes them unable to trust their own judgement. So that self-blame I think is the worst.”
This self-blame is not just fueled by a loss of trust but also by the lack of action by college administrations throughout the nation. Annie Clark, a victim of rape, and a student of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill went to the school administration to report the devastating incident. The response she got from an administrator was this, “Well Annie…Rape is like a football game, looking back what would you do differently?” (The Hunting Ground). Victims are blamed for getting raped. We need to blame rapists.
To victims of sexual assault, reporting to an administrator is a luxury. The percentage of student body members at Reed College who report sexual assaults is 9.62%. Reed had 35 reports total in the past three years (Kullgren). However, the student body that is seventeen times larger at the University of Oregon had merely 32 reports in that period of time (Kullgren). This indicates that the effective reporting system Reed College implements is not present nor available at other Universities. Imagine all the individuals dealing with their assaults in silence.With its rate Reed has become the college with the third highest annual reports of sexual assaults in the nation. It is a number that Reed College is proud of because the effectivity of their systems forces them to deal with the issue of sexual assault on campus head on.
Frost refers to rates like the ones University of Oregon promotes as “clear shenanigans.” As if colleges are merely children trying to trick their parents into not knowing what they did wrong. Frost says “I call it shenanigans because there are barriers to reporting at a lot of places, some of them intentional and some of them not,” Frost leans her elbow on the armrest of her chair. She adds, “I don’t think poorly of the schools. I just think they haven’t figured out how to address the issues. Looking out the window she says, “The business of a college is to educate students, not to deal with sexual assault, so colleges do not want to put a lot of resources into sexual assault because it does not affect that many people,” Frost shrugs and glances down. She says “There are some excellent people working at the University of Oregon. There is just not enough commitment on behalf of the entire college community to deal with the issue. And I would like to see that change.”
Ignorance has become the bliss of college administrations across the country. Frost says, “The worst part about sexual assault is the loss of control.” By reporting sexual assault a victim is furthering her own loss of control. Other college administrations do not realize the gravity these confessional interactions have. Reed College has a survivor-centered model of reporting to try to reduce this extra burden. A victim will be taken care of, and above all believed, not turned away. The point of this, Frost says, is “So that what happened to them doesn’t define them.” A person should not be labeled a rape survivor for the entirety of her life. She should have the ability to let the past go and thrive in the present.
Activists wish to use Title IX to change the sexual assault reporting system across the country. Title IX is a federal law, instituted in 1972, meant to combat gender discrimination. Most people know it primarily as an athletic focused law. Title IX also lays out the specific guidelines for reporting sexual assault because assault is a different manifestation of gender discrimination. A school that receives a complaint must investigate it within a 60 day time frame. The university must then make all changes necessary to continue the victim’s normal routine and education risk-free. The school is then supposed to also protect any individual stepping forward as a victim from the retaliation of their accused attacker (Bolger).
As Rowan Frost puts it, title IX is “a huge social experiment.” Frost believes that Title IX “has probably done more to raise awareness of sexual assault for college women than anything else and I think it’s wonderful.” Frost knows how very politicized Title IX is. The U.S. Department of Education reflects the general tenor of the administration running the country. Frost says, “We have been very lucky that since 2011 we have had the White House’s backing on addressing sexual assault. If politics change that will change as well.” Frost fears that there will be a backlash because most colleges are not willing to invest in programs that deal with sexual assault. She picks up on a key demographic that Title IX is not covering. Not just college women get raped. Women 14-24 are the most likely group to face sexual assault. So what is happening to those women who are not in college? It is not that they are not getting assaulted; it is that there are no programs available to help them. “What I really hope Title IX is doing is forcing us to discuss sexual assault period, as a culture,” Frost says. The large issue is that colleges do not follow Title IX, and thus do not present a victim with the resources and protections they deserve.
Over 106 colleges are being investigated by the federal government for violations of Title IX (Kingkade). Colleges like the University of Oregon and hundreds of others across America are negligent when it comes to putting in the time to follow Title IX. Hundreds of thousands of students are being deprived of the resources they deserve. Sexual assault is brushed off like it is irrelevant. Annie Clark’s story is a prime example. Clark continues to fight her college administration at UNC. Leslie Strohm is the vice chancellor at UNC. When Clark’s story was reported Strohm described the report, at a board meeting, as “False…untrue, and…just plain wrong” (The Hunting Ground). Imagine having been violated, and disrespected at your very core. You go to seek justice and support and you instead receive a slap in the face. You are devalued even further by being labeled as a liar.
Reed College breaks the mold. The big fear of colleges that understand the necessity of Title IX is that they will be labeled with a “rape problem” by all applicants and their families. Reed College took the plunge. Frost explains the high sexual assault rate at Reed by continuing to emphasize that “more people aren’t raped at Reed. It’s probably similar or maybe even a little lower than most colleges. It is that more are reported here and I am really proud of that. We have built up a trust between students and the administration.” It is thanks to the robust response team and great due process system at Reed College that this trust can exist. This sparks a deep belief in justice on campus since Reed College students value what they have and wish to make an impact elsewhere. Reed College is trying to change rape culture.
An aspect of rape culture is performative masculinity. Performative masculinity is bred the most on campus in fraternities. These are men attempting to bond with a new group of people through sexual prowess. Frost says, “It gets accentuated in college from high school.” In college, men feel more pressure to prove themselves by backing up their talk than in high school. The pressure of trying to impress new friends appears in this accentuation. “Men who join fraternities are three times more likely to rape…women in sororities are 74% more likely to experience rape than other college women (Valenti). Fraternities have the resources to set up parties with a plethora of alcohol and clear intentions. This is allowed because it is what they have always done. Nobody is challenging the system. Then if a woman does get raped the whole report is questioned for truthfulness because as Frost put it “what did she expect?” The victim becomes the scapegoat for the man who raped her.
Athletes are another example of extreme masculinity at universities. It has become apparent through media and news reports that college athletes seem to escape the repercussions of their actions when it comes to sexual assault. Stories of college football players accused of rape on the news are constantly turned on the victim: The victim ruined her attacker’s career. This mindset is living proof of how deeply rape culture has ingrained itself into American ideals. Frost has known this since she worked at the rape crisis line at University of Arizona. She and her coworkers would know the rapists who were on the teams. She told me a story that happened far too many times. These athletes would beat up their girlfriends so badly and the police would get involved. Rumors would begin to circulate a couple of days later. Frost heard comments like, “Oh she is such a slut…she was sleeping around…she made all these false accusations.” Frost knows where to place the blame for this behavior. “You see this machine that is not the administration; it is the other students.” This pressure from the student body forces the victim into silence at countless colleges, and in some cases withdrawal from the school. “You know that there is this culture of acceptable violence on campus because these guys have so much privilege,” says Frost. Athletes appear to be exempt from the rules. Jameis Winston is a Florida State University Football player. Erica Klinsman, a student at FSU, was raped by Winston in 2012. When she reported this sexaul assault her fellow students harassed her to such an extent that she dropped out of FSU. Winston went on to win the Heisman trophy the next year and is still on the field this season (The Hunting Ground).
How is it possible to attack such a national problem, one whose root is burrowed into the minds of a vast majority of Americans? Rowan Frost is doing her best.
* * *
There was once a quiet village. One day that silence got disrupted when a woman ran through the village screaming. “There are babies in the river! Everybody hurry and help me save them!” Soon after, all the villagers raced to the river and began to rescue babies one by one. Despite their tireless efforts, babies continued to flow down the water. The community grew increasingly exhausted. Eventually the original woman who warned her tribe mates about the babies got up and began to walk away. All the villagers began to scream “Where are you going!” She turned and responded, “I’m going to go find the son of a bitch who is putting them in the river.” That is how Rowan Frost explains her philosophy: working upstream.
What do you find upstream? Rape Culture. We need to educate ourselves. Find the motivation to make a change in society by challenging your friends. By simply eliminating sexist language and gender bias myths we can end the perpetuation of rape culture. College administrations need to make a change too. Frost knows that we must ask how we can “Create a community that will support survivors and keep perpetrators accountable, and keep them both safe within the community? Because we cannot just expel them from the world.” Frost says that we need other ways of dealing with perpetrators so they can say, “I was wrong and I want to change.” The culture around rape needs to change.
Where is sexual assault on college campuses going in the future? Rowan sees the problem going one of two ways. She sits back in her chair and sighs. She looks at me and says, “Pessimistic Rowan says that it depends on the administration in the country. I am afraid that we will end up replicating the system that colleges are trying to circumvent. Only ⅖ of rapes are reported and after that rapists only have a 3% conviction rate.” Frost briefly discusses the judicial system that makes it so easy for this low conviction rate to thrive. In court “Victims have to prove that they were raped in order to get a conviction” The proof is hard to get and justice is often too emotionally draining for the victim to fight for. That is why Reed College implements a survivor centered model on campus. Hopefully other colleges in the future will believe and give victims the support they need internally.
Then there lives optimistic Rowan, who says, “I hope that we will start to deal with sexual assault as a nation. I hope that we will allow women to have sexual feelings and act on them, and allow men to not have sexual feelings and not act on them.” Frost strongly believes that by shattering the norms of the nation “we will have a society where rape numbers are much lower.” She trains thirteen advocates in the Reed community every year for that very purpose. Thirteen more a year means thirteen more people to change the culture of America with their work. The root of the problem is identified. We know that rape culture is lurking upstream. The challenge is facing the current. Simply put, Rowan Frost just hopes “we actually deal with it.”
People who work in sexual assault prevention rarely exceed two years in the field. Frost has been working at Reed for just about two years now. Every time she sits down to talk to a victim she is “absorbing some of their emotions.” This absorption hardly has a release because she is bound to confidentiality. The result of this constant emotional suppression can be quite tolling on an individual. However, there are upsides to Frost committing herself so deeply into her work: “the fact that we can provide support to people who are terrified to talk about what happened to them” stands out to Frost.
A small group of people cannot fix a culture that has been built up for decades. The problem is too great to just be on the shoulders of sexual assault workers. It is time we all make minor changes in our thinking, language, and behavior to stop rape culture in its tracks. We must give support to those victimized by sexual assault, and also look at our violent and sexualized culture directly – whether it take shape in the eyes of our friends, siblings, or relatives – and oppose it. We have to stop rape culture. It is our job.
* * *
I return to the car, following the trail cloaked in darkness. Reed College is still. Students cannot be heard through their closed dorm doors while they study into the later hours of night. As I pull away gravel churns under my tires, and I notice the white light that streams through the blinds in a window. Reed College rests easy as Rowan Frost’s office illuminates the empty street.
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Frost, Rowan. Personal Interview. 29 Oct 2015.
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Maxwell, Zerlina. “Rape Culture Is Real.” Time.com. Time Inc. Web. 6 Nov. 2015. <http://time.com/40110/rape-culture-is-real/>.
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Ridgway, Shannon. “25 Everyday Examples of Rape Culture.” Everyday Feminism. Everyday Feminism. Web. 3 Nov. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/03/examples-of-rape-culture/>.Sewidan, Nada.
“Sexual Assaults on Oregon College Campuses a Rising Concern.”GoLocalPDX.com. GoLocalPDX. Web. 7 Nov. 2015. <http://www.golocalpdx.com/news/sexual-assaults-on-oregon-college-campuses-a-rising-concern>.
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Valenti, Jessica. “Frat Brothers Rape 300% More. One in 5 Women Is Sexually Assaulted on Campus. Should We Ban Frats?” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 24 Sept. 2014. Web. 1 Nov. 2015. <http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/24/rape-sexual-assault-ban-frats
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Works Cited: Cover Page
Smucker, Sierra. 1 in 5 Women are Sexually Assaulted while Enrolled in College. Digital image. Sanford Journal of Public Policy. Duke University, 11 Sept. 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2015.