At the 2016 Oscars Lady Gaga sang her song, “Til It Happens to You” from the nominated documentary The Hunting Ground. She was joined on stage by a group of sexual assault survivors. The performance, and documentary, shed light on an issue that was once very much in the dark. According to a survey by the Association of American Universities, 23% of female students reported being sexually assaulted as undergrads. That means 1 in 5 students experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact.
While this statistic is shocking—and horrifying—it is also surprising to most. That 1 in 5 female students who pack up their belongings and head into this new and exciting time will be victims of a life-altering crime is not something widely advertised by colleges—and why would they? College is a business, and like all business, they need money to survive. If students don’t attend their college, the business goes under. The result is a silenced victim.
According to that same survey, many victims were hesitant to report. Some felt embarrassed; others knew that a broken system might not defend them. Between five and 28 percent of sexual assault cases are reported, varying according to the type of crime. What The Hunting Ground tries to expose is the broken system that fails these victims. Focusing on a few victims’ stories, they retell the details of their assault as well as how they were treated. Most were discouraged from reporting. Others reported, and saw little consequence for their perpetrator. This allows for a cycle to continue.
This is never an easy topic to discuss. College is supposed to be—and can be—the best time of your life, but ignoring the elephant in the room doesn’t help anyone. It’s important to head into this new season of life with eyes wide open. Awareness is the first step. Surveys and statistics are one thing, but the reality is there are victims—men and women—who have faces and stories. The reality of those statistics is something they live with for the rest of their lives. While I don’t want to speak for them, I don’t think it’s unfair of me to say that they’d want you to help end the cycle.
Here are some guidelines/facts to help guide you:
1. “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” –The United States Department of Justice
The catchy slogans like “no means no” and “yes means yes” carry truth. Nobody should force another person past the boundaries they’ve set for themselves.
2. Speak up!
It’s important to report sexual assault. As devastating as these statistics are, they have brought to light a huge issue on college campuses—and outside of college campuses. Colleges have sought to reform their procedures in handing these crimes. Speak up, make your voice heard.
3. You are not alone.
If you are that 1 in 5, know that you are not alone. You do not have to suffer in silence. Whether you confide in a friend or call a hotline, talk to someone.
4. It is NEVER the victim’s fault.
A fundamental flaw in the system is the act of “victim-shaming.” This line of questioning (i.e. What were you wearing? Were you drinking? Did you leave the party with him?) causes feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment, perpetuating the issue of silent victims.
5. Proceed with caution.
Now that you’re equipped with the knowledge, it’s important to alter your worldview in some ways. Make safe choices. Go out with a friend, the buddy system isn’t just for kindergarten. Make sure friends know where you’re going.
This article isn’t meant to scare you, but it is meant to deliver a dose of truth. It’s important to enter situations with your eyes wide open, and college is no different. You’re entering a world of adulthood and with that comes so much good—and some bad. This part of college life is no longer a dark secret kept locked in a drawer. Due to efforts of students like you, teachers, and movies like The Hunting Ground, this story has been brought to the light. The best part of the light? Change.