March 23, 2017

Fighting Sexual Assault at USC and Beyond



Christina Chen is a Ph.D. Candidate in Neuroscience and a VOICE Representative for the Relationship Sexual Violence Prevention and Services at the University of Southern California


My chest tightened with anger when I heard Donald Trump in the Access Hollywood videotape.  I felt sick.  Protests from other sexual assault survivors have also persisted, since the list of women that Trump has been accused of sexually assaulting or harassing is extensive.  From Ivana Trump who stated under oath long that her husband had raped her (and only retracted her statement as part of settlement agreements), to a woman reportedly raped as a 13 year old, to Miss USA pageant host Nancy O’Dell whom he purportedly attempted to fire for rejecting his sexual advances, and to many others whom he reputedly groped or kissed without consent, the list continues. Adding to the injury are over 20 lawsuits filed against Trump or managers of his companies for hiring women based on appearances, participating in sexual harassment, or firing women for speaking against sexual discrimination.


Nonetheless, the electoral college elected Trump, a man who admitted on videotape to sexual assault, inflicted cruel and inhuman treatment on Ivana according to court documents, and is possibly guilty of felony rape, as our President.  Given his previous cavalier treatment of women and his campaign’s directive that female employees should “dress like women”, whether President Trump will enforce Title IX and Clery Act regulations on college campuses remains uncertain. 


USC is ranked #1 (tied with University of Michigan) on the percentage of undergraduate women who have been sexually assaulted (~30%), according to a campus climate survey conducted on 27 universities.  About 7% of undergraduate men experienced similar sexual assault at USC. Survey results revealed that 75.7% of bystanders who observed a drunken person headed to a sexual encounter and 54.7% of those who witnessed sexual violence or harassment did nothing. Our university, along with 223 colleges, has been under federal investigation for underreporting of sexual assault cases.  These statistics stunned me when I initially heard them, and they also shocked other students, who have spurred into activism.  Rather than hiding these statistics to protect university reputation, it is important for us to propose realistic solutions to combat underlying problems.  In today’s political climate, it is even more imperative that we – both students and faculty – care for one another as members of the Trojan family and promote affirmative consent.


When someone says “no” to sexual activity, it does not mean “maybe”.  It does not mean “no until you cave under pressure and uncomfortably say yes.”  It means no.  As articulated by the sexual assault survivor in the Brock Turner case, silence does not mean “yes”, and the psychological trauma resulting from sexual assault is immense.


For an enhanced understanding of affirmative consent, read the comics by Alli Kirkham, the analogy with a $5 bill, and the analogy with a stolen wallet. Watch the video on consent with a cup of tea.  Disperse these links to your friends so that they too may understand and prevent future tragedies from occurring anywhere.


If you see someone who is unable to consent, find ways to intervene by checking in with the person, interrupting the perpetrator in a conversation, or calling DPS (213-740-4321).  Don’t contribute to the bystander effect.  Solicit others to help you intervene.  Indirectly distract the perpetrator by starting a game or dance, allowing time for the victim to escape.  Protect others from sexual assault, not because they are weak, fragile creatures but because doing so is an ethical act.


USC has undertaken steps to combat sexual assault, but there is still more work to complete.  Join me today in reducing the sexual assault statistics on USC campus.