YOWELL: Rape culture on Grounds needs to be addressed

The University has done a good job of creating a safe and accepting environment for sexual assault survivors, but it just isn’t enough


While Green Dot seminars, readings in various classes and occasional conversations bring much-needed awareness to the issues at hand, these programs fail to extend beyond the fundamentals of teaching students that rape is wrong.

Courtesy University of Virginia

The University is no stranger to the issues sexual assault cases create, as prominent magazine Rolling Stone made apparent through its controversial 2014 article “A Rape on Campus” and its subsequent retraction. However, determining the facts of a case is only one issue that has been brought to light through articles, while many others, such as rape prevention, sometimes remain overlooked. Until these issues are brought to the surface and addressed, the University will continue to exhaust all of its efforts fixing the wrong problems surrounding rape culture on Grounds, overlooking the true issues at hand. 

None of this is to say that the University hasn’t tried to bring awareness to rape culture on Grounds — however, trying and succeeding are not the same thing. In fact, the University does have a complex and helpful system in place to help student survivors heal from their own sexual assault experiences, but as a survivor myself, I can testify that more should be done to prevent rape from occurring in the first place. 

If the events didn't occur, students wouldn’t need help healing — it couldn’t be simpler. So while Green Dot seminars, readings in various classes and occasional conversations bring much-needed awareness to the issues at hand, these programs fail to extend beyond the fundamentals of teaching students that rape is wrong. Rape prevention cannot just be taught once — it needs to be enforced day after day in hopes of stopping assaults from ever taking place.

This lack of continuous enforcement stems from too much emphasis being placed on helping survivors and prosecuting the rape cases after they occur. Yet, the unfortunate reality of a rape case is that it will likely never see a successful prosecution and conviction, and thus the University is wasting time, energy and resources by solely focusing on the aftermath of sexual assault cases. The number of victims is continuously rising, while the number of convictions remains at a mere five out of every 1,000 rapes. So, since our efforts of dealing with rape cases after the fact appear to be mostly unsuccessful, why aren’t we doing more to stop rape from occurring?

To simplify this idea, rape prevention needs to be prioritized, and it needs to work, unlike the measures currently being taken. And while I am unsure exactly what this should look like, I am certain that the first step towards accomplishing successful rape prevention is to stop primarily focusing on the aftermath and the “healing” aspects of sexual assault and start focusing on the beforehand and the “why.” 

However, there is not a one-size-fits all solution — a multifaceted, complex approach needs to be taken. This involves more extensive bystander training, such as mandatory classes or seminars. It may also involve more frequent required alcohol safety programs, self-defense classes or educational programming to ensure a better understanding of what rape looks like. Rape can take many forms and can often be overlooked due to the presence of alcohol or other substances. Strangers, acquaintances and partners are capable of committing rape, and anyone can be a victim — there is not a textbook rape case, which is something that should be emphasized. Thus, it is important that both male and female students, victims and bystanders, have a more comprehensive idea of what a rape can look like before it happens. Then maybe, they could pick up on red flags and stop it in its tracks. The key here is that these classes are not considered completed after one session — they need to be continuous. This might mean monthly, biweekly or even weekly meetings to ensure that the information conveyed is not forgotten and can be implemented. 

In addition to a more comprehensive educational program, the University should implement better safety strategies to protect students from sexual assault. For example, the International Sorority Council recently wrote a letter to the University detailing the results of a survey that identifies major places of concern off-grounds. The letter includes a list of places around off-grounds student housing that are severely underlit or under-patrolled by ambassadors. Increasing lighting and patrolling in these areas could provide extra layers of protection against sexual assault. 

This is not to say healing programs for survivors are unimportant — it means that the University needs to expend more of its time and resources on preventing these cases from occurring to begin with. If we can stop the experiences that ultimately lead to being labeled a “survivor,” we have essentially saved a life. Society must start focusing on how to prevent the rape and stop the default acceptance that it will just happen and can be healed from afterwards. Rape may seem inevitable, but it is preventable, and should be treated as such, especially by the very people being affected — the students at the University.

Hailey Yowell is the Senior Associate Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at h.yowell@cavalierdaily.com

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