There’s no room for joking in the sexual assault debate

Issue must be handled with respect

Steadfast Feminist.  Natalie Dulka
Steadfast Feminist. Natalie Dulka

Concordia’s “It’s on Us” campaign had a booth up in the Atrium for Civic Engagement Week and today my roommate, Katie Beedy, came back to our dorm seething. “But I love getting sexually assaulted” she said through gritted teeth. According to Beedy, as she and a friend were signing their names on the pledge at the booth, a Concordia student walked by and laughed at the booth saying “But I love getting sexually assaulted.” We could write it off as a bad collegiate joke but what good will that do?

According to the Concordia Website, the “It’s on Us” pledge reads: “I pledge to recognize that nonconsensual sex is sexual assault. To identify situations in which sexual assault may occur. To intervene in situations where consent has not or cannot be given. To create an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.” The campaign stresses education on consent and the importance of conversations about what sexual assault is and how to eradicate it from our society and, more specifically, our campus. It is not a joke.

The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault delivered a chilling statistic back in April of 2014 saying that 1 in 5 students experience sexual assault in their college career. In September of this year, CNN reported that 23 percent of college women report being sexually assaulted at the threat of physical harm or under the influence of drugs in their time at college.

And while those numbers are shocking and disturbing, they don’t even begin to encompass how big of a problem sexual assault on college campuses really is. The ACLU estimates that 95 percent of campus rapes go unreported. The Association of American Universities, in a survey done across 27 college campuses, found that the most common reasons for not reporting sexual assault and misconduct were that it “was not considered serious enough,” the victims were “embarrassed, ashamed” or that the victims “did not think anything would be done about it.”

And there are people making jokes about this.

In that same study, the AAU found that a little less than half of the students surveyed “have witnessed a drunk person heading for a sexual encounter. Among those who reported being a witness, most did not try to intervene.” The issue of sexual assault on college campuses is a monstrous one and Concordia is doing a lot to fix it here on campus.

But what about the fact that there are students who think that sexual assault awareness is laughable? What can we do about that? It’s fairly hard to get numbers on how many people actually take this stuff seriously, and it’s even harder to take action against those who don’t. We live in America. We get to make any kind of joke we want. That’s the First Amendment. So, instead of taking away college students’ rights to crack inappropriate jokes, I propose we have some really hard conversations instead.

As much as the “It’s on Us” campaign is doing a fantastic job addressing the issue at hand, how much actual change can signing a pledge and getting a button do? How much influence does a well-edited video have, even one featuring Bruce Vieweg and President Craft shown at Cabaret and a few of the beginning-of-the-year events? Now, I’m not saying that Dean Oatey’s efforts have been in vain — it’s an amazing step in the right direction that the sexual misconduct policy has been renovated since last year and that Concordia is having these conversations with its students. But, in my opinion, it’s not enough.

The conversation on sexual assault needs to be more than the Dramatic Dialogues. It needs to extend past the beginning of the year when students are barraged with policy reminders. If students are so oblivious to this issue that they think making jokes about sexual assault and rape is okay, we’re not doing a good enough job teaching them.

Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers and I don’t know how to get people to sit down and be serious about this stuff. Being the radical feminist I am, I’d love to see a mandatory event once a semester that demonstrates to the non-believers how debilitating and devastating sexual misconduct is for victims. Let’s require all students to demonstrate their understanding on the topic in some way. However the administration chooses to impress upon the student body how serious sexual assault really is, it needs to happen.

According to the Concordia website, “The purpose of Concordia College is to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.” If that remains true today, Concordia College needs to thoroughly inform its students about sexual violence, assault, misconduct and rape. There needs to be a standard at Concordia that demands a level of respect when discussing these issues. There needs to be an understanding here at Concordia that rape is not funny or something to take lightly. There needs to be a consensus that sexual assault is not a joke and the struggle of its victims should not be laughed at. Until we no longer laugh at rape jokes, our work to eradicate sexual violence at Concordia College is not done.

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