You would think that, over time, college campuses would become safer, with the increasing amounts of money being poured into the university system year after year. The funds are going to better lighting on campuses, more police presence, and modern security and technology that in essence would keep students feeling safe. Many students have reported feeling more safe in recent years, but there is a trend to the safety of our colleges and universities: only men feel safe partially because even birds of the same feather hunt for themselves. Female college students, however, still worry every single day, because even with all of the increased funds to make a campus safer, the larger problem is widely ignored: the sexual assault of women on college campuses.
Sexual assault on college campuses have recently been brought into the light through the likes of recent court cases like Brock Turner and films like “The Hunting Ground.” However, the reason why these sexual assaults happen so frequently in a university setting is still unknown to the majority of policy creators and university staff. Colleges and universities work to make the lighting better on campus and have an increased police presence, but it’s not that walking down the street is what makes women feel unsafe anymore.
The random stranger in a dark alley is not the perpetrator of these extreme body violations. It is their friends, their classmates, their acquaintances, even their boyfriends or girlfriends that are sexually assaulting these young women every single day. Women are now afraid of everyday settings like fraternity parties, bars and even their dorms’ community lounge, because these are the places where sexual assaults are not expected to happen, but do happen. So, even with different policies and efforts made to combat the issue of sexual assault on campus, the rates are not decreasing at all.
Why does sexual assault happen so often in colleges, where there are young adults put together without a parental presence for the first time in their lives? Why is it that a friend or boyfriend is most likely to be the person that hurts a girl so terribly? Why is it that a young woman might become afraid of her own bed because of what happened there one night? The underlying cause of sexual assault is deeper than just the safety measures at a university. Boys and girls are socialized from a young age to believe certain gender roles that lead to our rape-prone society. Starting from birth, girls are told that if a boy teases you or is mean to you, then she should be flattered because he likes you. Boys’ actions are played off because “boys will be boys.” Images in our popular media, like movies and music videos, display these aggressive behaviors that condone sexual assault. Our minds are so preoccupied with how we ‘should’ look and act that we are blind to the fact that these exact roles are causing the pain and suffering of many women worldwide. In a university setting, these gender roles combined with the newfound freedom of young adults, the party culture at colleges, and the role of alcohol and drugs in these students creates an environment where a sexual assault is most likely to happen.
Our society needs to change the ways it approaches relationships, hookups and the role of women and men in general. Brock Turner was found sexually assaulting an unconscious girl behind a dumpster and received only a short jail sentence because the criminal justice system did not want his reputation as a man to be tarnished. Even more men and boys are not held responsible at all for their assaults against women. And so many victims do not even disclose their assault because they know that the response will be unsatisfying. This problem in our country is not getting better, and may be getting worse, thanks to the results of the recent presidential election. Our new President-elect Donald Trump admitted on video to sexually assaulting a woman, and his behavior was brushed off as “locker-room talk.” This behavior from men is not only ignored in our society — it is accepted and even expected.
The changes in colleges and universities to create a safer environment for women does not need to come from an increased lighting or police presence on campus. There needs to be education for the male student population about what specifically constitutes sexual assault and how they should treat women (especially when there is alcohol involved). There also needs to be a shift in the way our society raises its children. There needs to be less of a focus on rigid gender roles, because they are only contributing to these beliefs that sexual assault is okay. With increased education, not only in colleges but all around, it is possible to finally change the stigma surrounding sexual assault. And one day, a woman might actually say that she feels completely safe on her college campus.