Thursday, May 28

Lydiette De Jesus: Students should embrace everyday activism to reduce rape culture

Editor’s note: This column discusses the issues of sexual assault and rape.

Students are beginning or returning to UCLA and besides their grades and social lives, they must be on the lookout for sexual assault.

Sexual assault is any sexual act or behavior that comes without clear consent. Some forms of sexual assault are attempted rape, rape and forceful sexual acts including oral sex or touching. Rape is defined as sexual penetration regardless of the degree, with any body part or object to either oral, vaginal or anal area without consent. Force can be either physical, emotional or psychological and is not limited to manipulation and threats.

The early release of Brock Turner being all over the news reminds us that rape and deeply rooted rape culture is still a serious problem on college campuses, and the back it up. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 37.4 percent of female rape victims were first raped at college age, 18-24 years old. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network also reports that among undergraduate students, 23.1 percent of female students experience rape or sexual assault. For males, the percentage is 5.4 percent, but male college students are 78 percent more likely to be victims of rape or sexual assault compared to nonstudents in the same age group. Assaults are more likely to happen in the months of August to November, the first few months of college.

These numbers aren’t meant to scare anyone, but they demonstrate the prevalence of sexual assault on campus. It’s frustrating and devastating that this crime is especially prominent on college campuses.

[Related: Jasmine Aquino: Perpetrators of sexual assault require more than suspension]

Anti-rape-culture campaigns claim “consent is sexy,” but it’s more than that. It’s necessary. Any large-scale, public effort to reduce rape and sexual assaults, such as educational materials and social media posts, can help bring attention the issue. But even with increased efforts, rape and sexual assault have sadly not ceased to exist. As the UCLA student body, we must recognize this harsh truth, be compassionately enraged and fight against it daily.

Anyone can be an advocate, anytime. Supporting rape victims doesn’t necessarily have to involve a membership to a club on campus or holding picket signs at a protest, nor is it limited to actual instances of sexual assault. Activism must be applied to daily life situations if there is to be actual change in the way society views and handles rape.

That’s why it’s equally important for friends and family of victims to be aware of their roles and influence after the incident, After all, smaller-scale everyday actions can help contribute toward changing social norms regarding rape and sexual assault.

Yes, discussing sexual assault and rape isn’t comfortable. However, ignoring the matter won’t make it go away. At some point, a friend might experience a sexual assault, and you’ll need to support him or her. While there are resources and professionals better suited to help with such matters, your immediate response and support, or lack thereof, will be crucial in shaping the experience of the sexual-assault victim.

After all, it can be a traumatic experience for victims. Although everyone reacts differently, some people might seek the comfort of familiarity and therefore want to speak to their friends or family first, while others might not want to talk about it at all.

As a student, it is important to remember that sexual assault can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Deeply embedded rape culture has caused our society to expect rape to happen a certain way, like being attacked by a stranger while walking alone at night. But statistics show that this is not what usually happens. According to the State of California’s Department of Justice, about 80 percent of victims already knew the offender.

If a friend decides to disclose a sexual assault incident, please remember that telling anyone was difficult to do and that their experience is not to be validated by you. Don’t treat it as a mystery to solve. Playing detective should not be our initial response.

Rape already causes both psychological and physiological stress but having to face a common harsh judgement from society, especially from friends and family, is only more more distressing.

It doesn’t matter if the assailant was the victim’s dance partner. It doesn’t matter if they agreed to leave to a more private place. It doesn’t matter if they are in a relationship. It doesn’t matter how much skin she is or isn’t showing. There is absolutely no excuse for rape or sexual assault. No is no and as long as we think of the conditions the victim was in and offer that information as a logical explanation as to why the rape and/or sexual assault occurred we will never be able to hold the real culprit, the assailant, responsible.

But everyday activism should go beyond supporting people in actual instances of sexual assault. Students can help resist rape culture in other situations too.

This can range anywhere from calling out your own friends for making rape jokes, listening to someone’s experience without condemning or rationalizing their experience, or stopping a group of people who discuss another person’s experience in a condescending manner.

[Related: Petition calls for dismissal of professor accused of sexual assault]

UCLA, like any college campus, is at a high risk for rapes and sexual assault because of rape culture; assailants aren’t held responsible and victims don’t tell anyone in fear of being judged.

Whatever the reasons or circumstances are, students have a key role in supporting victims after the fact. In order to create a safe and supportive campus, as students we must take our activism outside of protests and board meetings and into everyday life. Simply learning to listen instead of scrambling to explain the unexplainable can help victims begin the healing process faster. After all, sexual assault should not have to be part of the college experience but an aware, active and supportive UCLA community should be.

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