What can we do to prevent sexual assaults?

Some people have got it right, and some people have it so wrong. 

How to Stop Rape on Campus

In an open letter to President Phil Hanlon of Dartmouth University, mathematics professor Alex Burnett criticized the university’s emphasis on “bystander intervention” to prevent sexual assault, and its handling (or, rather, not handling) of reports of rape within the university. The professor’s fact-based advice:

  • Hand suspected rapists over to the police, instead of, for example, advising rape victims to take medical leave. Burnett reminds Hanlon that evidence shows 94% of men do not rape, but that those who do are serial offenders. Unstopped, they will rape again. Therefore they must be evicted from campus and turned over to the police; actionable crimes of violence must not be treated as misunderstandings or youthful hijinks on par with underage drinking.
  • Transition to co-ed housing, since gender- segregated spaces —like fraternities — are associated with higher rates of sexual assault.
  • Empower women on campus by funding and supporting a Women’s Center, and naming it thus — instead of the current blandly named Center for Gender & Student Engagement.

The professor concluded: “…that, as a wealthy private institution with student safety in mind, it is inconceivable that we don’t have the power to fix some of the injustice of rape (and the related hazing) on our campus. If we somehow do not have this power (certain forces are opposed to change), naming and discussing these obstructions is essential.”

The professor’s call to action is refreshing in a time when national statistics show that 1 in 4 female college students experience sexual assault by their graduation day,
and there is little accountability or punishment for the perpetrators.


Anti-Rape Underwear? Seriously? 

Some businesses are breaking into the industry of rape prevention. Now women can purchase Anti-Rape Underwear — AR Wear — for those situations that women feel might be dangerous, such as traveling, going for an early morning jog, going out at night. This technologically advanced undergarment is supposedly impossible to pull down, making it harder to accomplish what the AR-Wear website calls “complete rape.” What this magical underwear fails to solve is the problem of why, in our society, is it perfectly normal for a woman to leave her home and say to herself, “I might get raped today. Better get my AR Wear on.”

AR Wear comes with a disclaimer: “The only one responsible for a rape is the rapist and AR Wear will not solve the fundamental problem that rape exists in our world. Only by raising awareness and education, as well as bringing rapists to justice, can we all hope to eventually accomplish the goal of eliminating rape as a threat to both women and men.” And yet, this underwear puts the burden of rape prevention on women. It’s the same old story — “You shouldn’t have worn a mini skirt.” Moreover, most rapists are known and even closely connected to the victim. You can be violated in ways that don’t involve your underwear. And some rapists threaten you further if you don’t do what they want. In conclusion: capitalizing on the fear of sexual assault — not going to help destroy rape culture!


Why Police Rape Kits Fail to Convict

The problem of sexual assault is consistently examined from the wrong angle. And Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation shows that sometimes it’s not examined at all. Although rape kits are generally collected from victims who report the crime to law enforcement officials, these kits can be ignored for months or even years before they are tested, allowing many rapists to go undiscovered and unprosecuted.

Joyful Heart is determined to spread awareness about these crimes with their website, EndtheBacklog.org. In response to reports of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits around the country, three states — Illinois, Texas, and Colorado — have passed legislation that compels law enforcement agencies to take an inventory of their untested kits and send them to crime labs. It’s a big step towards identifying and prosecuting rapists. In order to address and prevent sexual crimes in the United States, it is first necessary to view rape as a crime worthy of investigation.