February 7, 2017

11 Everyday Ways You Can Help End Gender-Based Harm on Campus

By Livey Beha, NGOs and Social Change Major, 2nd year VOICE Representative and RA, Parkside.

TRIGGER WARNING This article or section, or pages it links to, contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

When Stanford student Brock Turner was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to a mere six months in jail this past June, the internet exploded with the cries of injustice. The national news story was one of many to open up conversations around the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Time after time, the Turner case underscored the worst parts of rape culture – the ways in which society blames victims of sexual assault and normalizes, even incentivizes sexual violence. I was grateful to hear many of my own online community standing in solidarity with the survivor, even as the media shifted the narrative away from Emily Doe’s reality toward Turner’s athletic prowess.

It’s easy to say that we all would have been the person who would jump on the back of the perpetrator to stop him, and that none of the people we surround ourselves with are capable of the crime Turner committed. But looking around our own campus, the numbers speak otherwise. According to the results of the 2014 USC campus climate survey, almost 30% of undergraduate women have experienced some form of sexual assault since their time on the USC campus. However, among those who reported having witnessed instances of possible sexual assault, “54.7% of students indicated that they did nothing”.

How is this possible? Cases like Turner’s sensationalize sexual assaults as singular, random acts of violence, rather than appropriately labeling them as part of a larger public health epidemic of gender-based or power-based harm, which includes a myriad of acts from sexual assault, to domestic violence and stalking. We are shocked by the grotesque, publicized versions of misogyny we read about in the news, but often fail to connect our own behaviors to the propagation of social climates greater than any one person. Here are ten behaviors that perpetuate rape culture – working together to change them are the first steps in ending the culture of campus sexual violence and power and gender-based harm more broadly.

  1. Consider your curse words.

Ever noticed how we normalize sexual violence in the language we use? Especially when we’re angry? Language like “F*** You” and “Suck my D***” normalizes the use of sex as a transaction or a tool to assert power over someone else.  Be aware of your use of this language, and make steps to find synonymous, less violent phrasing. More on this subject here.

  1. Challenge gender roles and expectations to end toxic masculinity.

There is a societal expectation that people have to behave a certain way based on their gender.  For men, the expectation that they must be or act strong, aggressively dominant, and virile can correlate to toxic expressions of sexuality through violence and coercion. Let’s all work to conceptualize ways that we can all healthily express our gender. Let’s reject assumptions that say people have to look or act certain ways just because of their gender, and instead recognize that people can identify on every imaginable place on the gender spectrum between masculinity and femininity, and that it is emotionally healthy for men to expressing their feminine traits. No one should be forced into a box based on rigid gender roles. You can find a couple of great TEDx Talks on this subject here and here.

  1. Be aware of and mitigate the social rewards that come with having sex.

Within the college hook-up culture, most of us have jumped on a bandwagon attitude that “getting some” is an extremely important part of the social scene. We congratulate our friends (of all genders) on having sex, and nights out without someone in the friend group finding a hook-up are often labeled “failures”.  I’ve had friends tell me they keep track of and compare their “number” – the amount of people they’ve slept with – with other people. This attitude fosters social pressure to prioritize quantity of sex above all else – even consent.

Also, choosing to have sex is great, but choosing not to have sex is also great. Have you given a high-five to all the amazing asexual or abstinent people in your life recently?

  1. Don’t glorify or fiscally reward athletes or entertainers, or politicians accused or convicted of sexual or intimate partner violence.

I’m going to use the illustrious Meryl Streep and her Golden Globe speech for this one: “when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing.”

  1. Rape jokes aren’t funny.

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Rape jokes.

Rape jokes who?

Rape jokes who trivialize the trauma of survivors of sexual assault by trying to make light of a very serious situation… See? Not funny at all.

  1. Do intervene at parties or other public places when you see a situation that concerns you.

I get it, you’re probably afraid of being that weird person who completely misinterprets what’s going on and interrupts a potential hookup or causes a scene. Think of it this way: if two people were hooking up in a totally consensual scenario, the likelihood that you will ruin their evening by briefly interrupting is low. On the other hand, if you see a questionable or even clearly dangerous situation, intervening could make a world of difference. Remember the golden rule and keep your fellow Trojans safe, y’all!

6 ½. If you don’t feel safe intervening, get help from someone else, but don’t leave a situation without knowing that everyone involved is safe. When in doubt, call DPS (213-740-4321).

When it’s party pooper vs. sexual assault, party pooper wins every time. (I’m taking suggestions for a catchier slogan, if you have any).

  1. If you’re not already doing so, learn how to ask for consent in ways that feel comfortable and sexy for you, and put them into practice!

Asking for and giving consent can occur in many ways, but all of them require informed, unambiguous affirmation that every party involved wants to engage in sexual activity. Looking for a consent education refresher?  You can check out my favorite videos on the subject here, here, here, and here.

  1. When you’re in spaces where someone is talking about another person in a way that sexually objectifies them, slut shames them, or assumes that person wants to have any type of sexual contact without having received consent (even in the abstract), call them out!

Whether it’s happening in a locker room or an online chat room, you have the power to stop misogyny and rape culture right in its tracks!  Your response can range anywhere from feminist soapbox (my personal preference, to be honest) to “Hey, that’s not okay. The person you’re talking about is a human being who is deserving of respect”, and I promise you that you will, at the very least, have forced them to stop and think about what they were saying.

  1. Unconditionally believe survivors.

The first thing you should know is that survivors can have any gender, outfit, sexual orientation, relationship status, or story. When someone is seeking healing or justice, and asks for your support, your first instinct should be to support them, not question whether they were lying or if they were somehow at fault. If a loved one called to tell you they had been hit by a car and was injured, you probably wouldn’t ask, “Well, are you sure you got hit by the car?” or “Why weren’t you wearing brighter clothing so the car could see you better?”.  You would ask “Are you alright?” and “How can I help?”- so let’s make a practice of always doing the same for survivors of gender/power- based violence.

*Note: You might be thinking right now “well some people do lie about being sexually assaulted”, and if you are, I would like to let you know that according to FBI statistics and a study done by the US National Research Council, you are eleven times more likely to die by being struck by an asteroid than you are to be falsely accused of sexual assault.  Also, university and/or law enforcement officials are specially trained and qualified to determine whether a claim of sexual assault is unfounded. Unless you share those credentials, you probably have no grounds to be judging a survivor’s circumstances. Additionally, when investigations are inconclusive or are unable to find in the favor of the survivor, this does not necessarily mean that the gender-based harm did not occur. Rather, survivors often face barriers to the collection of evidence necessary to convict, like time, trauma, and safety.

  1. Look for signs of unhealthy behaviors in your and your friends’ relationships.

The relationships in your life should make you feel cared for and supported. Take notice if one partner in your or your friends’ intimate partner relationships or friendships is harshly critical of, verbally abusive towards, codependent on, controlling, or stalking the other partner. These behaviors, if unchecked, could escalate to violence or indicate that violence is already present in the relationship. Check in with yourself or your friend to assess the best avenues for support that will lead to being removed from situations that are psychologically and/or physically harmful. 51 Signs of an Unhealthy Relationship

  1. Seek support or learn more about ending gender-based harm by getting involved with campus resources.

Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention and Services (RSVP) provides advocacy and confidential counseling to those who have experienced sexual/gender-based harm during their time at USC.  If you or a friend is seeking support, you can call RSVP at (213) 740-4900. You can even speak to a counselor after hours by pressing zero “0” to speak to an on-call counselor. RSVP is located in Engemann Student Health Center, Suite 356.

RSVP partners with student organizations and clubs to host educational programs that foster a better understanding of sexual violence, relationship abuse, stalking, and healthy relationships/sexuality. If you’d like to bring RSVP or VOICE to a class, org or club that you are a part of, you can request an outreach or workshop here.

Last but not least, there are several initiatives and student organizations working to end gender-based violence here on campus. Among them are RSVP’s peer outreach group, VOICE, the Committee on Sexual and Interpersonal Misconduct, and the Women’s Student Assembly. Anyone looking to learn more or want to join a community of people actively working to educate and shape policy around ending gender-based harm on campus is welcome!