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Sunday, June 04, 2023

Column: It really is on us — consent and sexual assault

"Because sex without it isn’t sex.

It’s rape.”

These lines come from a video from the “It’s On Us” campaign, launched by the Obama administration to promote consent. The video, which featured many celebrities, emphasizes the need for freely given consent. Like most issues, this has fallen prey to partisanship.

When asked to describe a hypothetical sexual assault, someone might describe a dark alley. A stranger. Maybe some type of weapon. This isn’t always an accurate and representative idea of how sexual assault actually happens. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, four out of five assaults are committed by someone the victim knows.

Social problems can only be solved if there’s widespread recognition of said problems. Sexual assault is no different. In any other crime, the problem is the perpetrator — that murderer shouldn’t have murdered that person, that robber shouldn’t have robbed that person, etc. But when it’s a sexual assault that gets committed, somehow that message is lost. The burden falls on the victims to protect themselves from unwanted attention. That person shouldn’t have worn that, said that, been there, been alone, etc. This creates an additional burden for survivors to overcome: the idea they “attracted” the rapist to them. On college campuses, sexual assault can pose a particular problem, given that college administrations must figure out how to deal with the issue.

If you think UF is the exception, you’re wrong. While Florida State University was in the headlines for their treatment of Jameis Winston, sexual assault happens here in Gainesville, too — to people of all genders. According to the results of the UF Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, “One in five UF female undergraduate students indicated they have experienced some type of sexual assault — ranging from sexual touching such as groping to unwanted penetration — since entering UF. Five percent of male undergraduates reported the same.”

After a sexual assault or rape happens, the survivor may not feel comfortable coming forward. According to InvestigateWest, self-blame and confusion can cause women to delay or not report an assault at all, and 62 percent of sexual assaults are drug facilitated.

Ultimately, this should not be a political issue. There needs to be more widespread education about consent, including what counts and does not count as consent. Problems that mostly affect women might seem petty to men: “Well, if they just did this or that, they would be fine!” It’s well known the current Republican presidential candidates have less than friendly policies toward women, whether it’s their bodily autonomy in ending a pregnancy or just plainly objectifying them.

Can women really do much to prevent sexual assault? This past week, John Kasich showed he buys into victim blaming. A student from St. Lawrence University asked: “What are you going to do in office as president to help me feel safer and more secure regarding sexual violence, harassment and rape?”

While his response began with sensible suggestions for policy on campus, he added one last bit of advice: “Don’t go to parties where there is a lot of alcohol.”

Kasich is often painted as the safe and best alternative to Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. Perhaps he is, but these remarks are troubling nonetheless. And that they came from a “moderate” presidential candidate reflects just how widespread the notion that sexual assault is easily solvable, if women would just follow a few rules, really is in our society.

Coming up with such simple solutions to sexual assault is condescending and wrong. There’s no safe version of misogyny. Women across the political spectrum deserve better.

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Nicole Dan is a UF political science sophomore. Her column appears on Mondays.


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