Addressing 'rape culture' begins with self-reflection

A plea for perceptional change

On January 28, 2014

Sexual assaults among UB students are on a slight decline, despite increasing awareness to the issue nationally. Declining, however, is a far cry from gone.

"The statistics on sexual violence at UB have fallen slightly over the last six years while charges filed have increased," stated Anna Sotelo-Peryea, public health planner and violence prevention specialist at UB.

"And this is a good thing."

We agree that it is a good thing, but continued change at the level of our perception and personal action is essential.

The improvement has followed the initiation of UB's Violence Prevention Program, an award-winning effort both locally and nationally. The program engages with students and advocates at the campus and community level to prevent and educate, while encouraging policy to deter sexual violence and assisting survivors.

Sexual violence across college campuses, though, remains a disgrace among our generation, a plight that must be addressed with the utmost seriousness and determination.

President Obama's speech on sexual assaults and the announcement of a task force to address the issue came with a series of sobering statistics.

"One in five women on college campuses has been sexually assaulted during their time there," the president decried, going on to reiterate his dedication to correcting this societal and cultural issue through task forces and "agencies across the federal government," giving passing mention to grass-roots change.

But sexual assaults do not occur within the watchful view of the federal government, of Obama or Joe Biden. The president's comments are welcome, of course, recognition of such an affliction at so high an office will surely bring some attention to the issue. But is attention alone what we need?

Or is there something involved in actively correcting an issue beyond simply acknowledging its existence?

According to the FBI, 5 percent of instances of sexual violence are reported. But then, only 10 percent of those reported even lead to an arrest, with far fewer ever even prosecuted, according to the National Center for Policy Analysis.

UB has had improved reporting over the years - more charges were filed last year than any other - but it is worth considering what the baseline likely was.

A national conversation is beginning following the president's comments - we look toward the president behind the podium and wonder, what can be done about sexual violence across this nation's campuses? Or toward our administrators, puzzled, and wonder what they are doing about this.

Sexual violence deserves attention at these levels, and we are right to pressure our leaders to do something about such a tragedy, but not all solutions lie so far away.

UB, following its ambitious Violence Prevention Project instituted six years ago, has made significant gains, due in no small part to the education of students, empowerment of student advocates and the wealth of services for survivors. UB is above national averages on awareness and below on actual incidents, according to the National College Health Assessment.

But the work is not done here, and certainly not nationally. Lest we fall complacent in our own successes, consider this statistic - one incident is far too many.

Agencies, task forces, projects and committees are all important to correcting such a multifaceted, endemic problem. But there is something that can be done that no president or organization can correct alone - our own perception of and action against sexual violence.

The student body must take the crucial step of expressing disagreement with questionable actions, intervening when something appears awry, contacting the appropriate authorities when necessary and promoting the multitude of services at our campus for survivors.

It remains vitally important to be there for friends, believe them when they confide in you, support survivors and advocate for best practices within police departments and improved policies surrounding sexual violence.

But the truly fundamental sea change will take place within ourselves. We as individuals must radically change the way we view the issue itself, becoming cognizant of the manner in which we speak and remain critical of the things we see and hear across the spectrum of media - music, movies, shows.

"How we interact with each other, this is where our culture is," Sotelo-Peryea said. "We are a rape culture. That is something that we can all change."



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