Sexual Assault: It’s Everybody’s Problem

MSU Police received a report of a rape which likely occurred in or around the Johnstone Center around midnight Friday night.” I received this MSU Alert on Saturday Oct. 17, while I was at the VOICE Center’s annual retreat, learning how to support and advocate for individuals impacted by sexual assault, among other issues.

While Bozeman’s crime rates are extremely low in comparison to other college towns, we are still affected by the same issues that plague other campuses, including sexual assault. National statistics state that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Sexual assault is defined by Montana law [MCA] section 45-5-502 as “a person who knowingly subjects another person to any sexual contact without consent.” There are a few situations in which an individual cannot give consent, including when the perpetrator is in a supervisory role over the victim or if the victim is mentally or physically incapacitated.

With that being said, sexual assault does not happen on a spectrum; there are no gray areas, there are no ‘maybes’. Either a crime was committed or it wasn’t.

While alcohol often plays a role in sexual assaults, alcohol does not create criminals. The average person does not drink alcohol and immediately think “who can I sexually assault now?” Yet it seems that, far too often, students place the blame on alcohol when they say comments such as: “They didn’t realize what they were doing because they were drunk … They were both drunk so it wasn’t anyone’s fault.”

If people want to place the blame on alcohol when discussing sexual assaults, consider applying the same reasoning to DUI’s.  When an intoxicated person gets behind the wheel of a car, they are held 100 percent responsible for all of the possible consequences. The same goes for sexual assault. When the perpetrator commits a crime, regardless of intoxication on either party’s part, the instigator of the sexual acts is responsible for their crime, just as any other criminal would be.

Campuses around the nation are focusing on sexual assault and doing their part, through policies and regulations, to prevent sexual assaults. One such regulation is the Clery Act, which requires “colleges and universities … participating in federal student aid programs to disclose campus safety information, and imposes certain basic requirements for handling incidents of sexual violence and emergency situations.” The more recent Campus SaVE Act, passed in 2013, requires colleges with Title IX funding to dedicate money and effort towards sexual assault education.

MSU is extremely lucky in that not only do we have a fantastic Title IX Office, housed in the Office of Institutional Equity, but we also have the VOICE Center. The advocates at the VOICE Center assist survivors of sexual assault through offering unconditional support as well as provide survivors with various reporting options and resources.

While the Title IX Office and the VOICE Center are terrific resources that provide MSU with a stable foundation for assistance, outreach and preventive education, they cannot improve the culture on campus without the participation and commitment from members of the MSU community; students, staff and faculty alike.

We need to work as a unified body that understands the importance of speaking out against rape culture and stepping up to prevent sexual assault. Every single one of us can make a difference by doing our best to eliminate rape culture.

Rape culture, simply defined, is when societal attitudes towards gender and sexuality reinforce and normalize rape. If we want to see a positive change on our campus, we need to realize the detrimental effects that sexist language, jokes and behavior have on our campus, and do our part to eliminate such language and actions from our personal lives. Through dissolving the pyramid of violence from the bottom up (refer to visual), we can work to eliminate problem-causing behavior.

It is important to realize that sexual assault is a crime of power. It robs an individual of one of their most basic rights; their choice.

While breaking down rape culture is important, it won’t stop a sexual assault that is about to occur. Arguably one of the easiest ways to stop a possible sexual assault from occurring is through bystander intervention. If you see an individual taking advantage of another individual that seems mentally and/or physically incapacitated due to alcohol etc., step in and make sure that the incapacitated individual has a safe way to get home, preferably with trusted friends. If you see anyone alter any food or drink, report it to MSU Police Department at 994-2121. When you’re in a public setting keep an eye on your beverage and don’t accept any food or drink.

Most importantly, educate yourself and others. As the student code of conduct details, legal consent only takes one form: an affirmative yes.

I challenge the students of MSU to step up and say something, even when it’s easier to remain silent. I challenge the students of MSU to make a difference, after all it’s on us.