Date rape: ‘One sexual assault is too many’
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Date rape: ‘One sexual assault is too many’

It’s not easy to talk about rape.

Finding the balance between protecting rape victims and providing the public with timely information is something we’ve recently struggled with as a staff here at the Vision.

But our difficulties do not compare to the real, painful and traumatizing experiences  that as many as one in five women will experience as victims of sexual assault.

That’s why we’re introducing a new series, where we attempt to talk about sexual assault on campus in a way that is sensitive, educated and real.

Rape happens on college campuses, and it’s happened here very recently.

With the recent arrest of a former Belmont student and the dropped sexual assault charge at the 2016 “Life is Turnt” party, the issues of rape and alcohol have become more present on Belmont’s own campus.  

Unfortunately, the environment that can define a college experience — new friends, strange places and alcohol — can also put students at risk of sexual assault.  

The Vision will sit down over the next few weeks with administrators, students and experts to cover topics such as alcohol addiction, off-campus party rules and the Responsible Friend Clause in the Bruin Guide.

 

Date rape, according to Belmont officials, is an outdated term.

“Date rape is acquaintance rape.  And the term date rape has become a little bit obsolete because date rape implies that you’ve agreed to go on a date with that person and then that person sexually assaults you,”  said Molly Zlock, Title IX coordinator and assistant dean of Students.

Former Coordinator of Security Programs Liz Grubb, figuratively putting on what she calls her “advocacy hat,” said the term “date rape” can be damaging to a victim because their trauma may not fit within a narrative they recognize as “date rape.”

Replacing the term “date rape” with acquaintance rape is one step toward a different, broader and more recognizable narrative.

“You need to move through that process of healing, regardless if it was a date, a tinder swipe or whatever,” Grubb said.

And this isn’t just a political correctness issue; acquaintance rape is significantly different in prevalence and prevention methods than its equally despicable complement, which Grubb and Zlock call stranger rape.

Teaching men and women to defend themselves, walk in groups and carry pepper spray are methods of what’s known as risk reduction, and that risk applies to a host of violent crimes — including stranger rape.

In the context of acquaintance rape, the strategy shifts from risk reduction to prevention. It’s harder to teach ways to prevent acquaintance rape because it looks so different in every case. Sometimes, warning signs aren’t even recognizable.

“There are statistics that say over half of 18 to 24 year olds don’t know how to recognize relationship violence,” Grubb said.

Indeed, a study conducted by Knowledge Networks in 2010 found 57 percent of college students found violent and abusive dating behaviors difficult to identify.

“You can imagine how important the topic of defining consent is when it has to do with emotional abuse and physical abuse,” Grubb said.

And consent is more complicated than a simple yes or no before penetration.

“It’s important to understand that sexual misconduct has a very wide spectrum. A lot of people assume when we’re talking about sexual assault or sexual violence that we’re talking about rape,” Zlock said. “And the idea of consent happens from the moment that you agree to hold somebody’s hand.”

If there is a question of consent and abusive behaviors between individuals, this becomes a dangerous situation that can be exacerbated by the college environment: more freedom, more alcohol, more stress.

A recent article in The Tennessean discussed the “red zone,” the time between move-in day and Thanksgiving break when, statistically, students may be at a higher risk for sexual assault thanks, in part, to these factors.

But putting a warning label on a time period, especially one borrowed from ESPN, may not be the most helpful way to address a sensitive topic, said Grubb and Zlock.

“I don’t necessarily know that you can make that claim. I think that unfortunately, sexual assaults are happening at all times in the year,” Grubb said.

Part of the hesitation to adopt the “red zone” terminology also lies in the implication of safe zones implied by the months not included in the red zone. Rape isn’t like stingray season in Florida; you can’t put up a sign telling people when to shuffle their feet and give them the all-clear for the rest of the year.

And a red zone based on reported sexual assaults during a given time period may not get the numbers right either because victims can report a sexual assault when they feel ready.  Reported assaults believed to have taken place within the school year are required to be listed in Belmont’s annual security report.

“You’re always welcome to read the annual security report, it takes a long time to write,” Grubb said.

On page 47 of that security report, there are three rapes reported on campus in 2015, the most recent data available to students.

“For whatever reason, there seems to be, I don’t know, this misperception that we’re shoveling things away. We’re not. We’ve got to put on our advocacy hat here and make sure that our whole community is safe. That includes the victim and sometimes the perpetrator, too, since we have to protect their rights,” Grubb said, addressing the subject of reporting and transparency between students and the university.

For students concerned about the reporting of sexual assaults, Grubb and Zlock encourage them to participate in the annual Campus Climate Survey and honestly report their experiences.

Ultimately, all numbers, terms and zones aside, the overall takeaway is clear.

“One sexual assault is too many,” Grubb said.

 

Coming next, we will be discussing the Responsible Friend Clause and Title IX immunity in the case of a sexual assault.  

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