Watching Not In Our Town made me consider the current state of sexual assault on college campuses, particularly that of the ongoing investigation at FSU as reported by The New York Times this past week. A prized football player is accused of sexually assaulting a female, she reports it to both campus and local police, and neither of these authorities adequately follows through – in fact, they both willfully sweep it under the rug. Per NYT: The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university. The victim’s pleas for help were met with silence. Indeed, as the police chief in Not In Our Town expressed – silence is acceptance.
In order to get the message across that sexual assault is in fact NOT OK, we must revise the culture of acceptance. First, we must set a standard of zero tolerance policy on campus. Creating unambiguous language and following through on strict adherence to the guidelines will ensure victims and perpetrators that sexual assault will not be tolerated. Just as in office settings where new employees must sign acknowledgment of the sexual harassment policy, as should students and all campus faculty and officials. When clear rules and consequences are established, people will be forced to take personal responsibility for their behaviors and will think twice before committing that crime. Second, sexual assault response resources must be made available on campus where the environment is one of safety and encouragement and not victim blaming or shaming. Victims need a safe haven that they can rely on for comfort and advocacy. They should be guided through the criminal reporting process, which should be clear and concise with efficient follow through by campus officials. It is imperative that the system be trustworthy so that victims will not have to suffer in silence. And third, a campus wide initiative to spread the message of human empathy and interpersonal respect will be necessary for meaningful attitude and behavior change. Building respect and empathy towards one another will serve to promote understanding and respect rather than objectivity and discrimination. This can be achieved through mandatory collaboration and cooperation initiatives across student boundaries of sports and cliques such as Habitat for Humanity, Project Adventure, or any number of volunteer service orientated team-building activities.