From a reporter’s point of view, it’s easy to write about rape. It’s easy to find the 1 in 4 statistic from RAINN or any group who has done the research. It’s easy to report that help is minimal and the prosecution rate pathetic. Without historical context or new information, however, these statistics are just that: statistics. The numbers and figures in such regurgitative reporting ultimately delivers no useful information and no real solutions.
Of the half dozen articles on rape published by the Alligator this past September, four had “rape culture” in the title. “National, local rape culture calls for change in conversation” in particular repeatedly referenced and blamed a “rape culture” for all rape without ever even defining it.
“Rape culture” is a culture that normalizes rape in its society. Joking about rape, making excuses for rapists and street harassers, and scrutinizing a woman’s dress and behavior instead of the behavior of rapists and harassers is rape culture. These conditions certainly exist and are a form of sexism, but, simply grouping them all under the umbrella of “rape culture” and blaming this for rape lets rapists off the hook.
The Alligator’s repetitive examinations do little to further a more in-depth discussion on rape, its causes and solutions. All women know rape is a problem. We don’t need to hear more examples, we know the examples. Many of us ARE the examples. What we should be reading about is how UF is currently handling the rape cases they do receive, what rape prevention programs, policies and tactics UF employs to stop rapists, and how they can improve in the future.
Following a rape that took place near campus in November of 2011, UF sent out an e-mail alert to the entire university listserv where the University Police Department (UPD) reminded students to “Avoid walking alone,” and “Stay in well-lighted areas away from alleys, bushes and entryways.” This “advice” merely perpetuates rape myths and does nothing to educate on actual rape prevention since 73% of all sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, not a lurking stranger in the bushes. As campus police, one would expect or at least hope they would know better.
The Fine Print reported this rape as part of a broader look at UF’s rape prevention program in 2011 in an article titled “UF Says Yes to Rape Awareness.” We had reported that on the UPD’s own website every single link to UF’s policies and procedures concerning sexual assault and all links to rape awareness resources and groups were broken.
Today, two years later, these links are still broken. There’s even a wrong phone number given for Sexual Trauma/Interpersonal Violence Education (STRIVE), the rape awareness group at UF. If UPD gives the impression on their own website that rape and rape prevention are not a high priority, what hope do we have that women on campus will come forward and report rape, let alone see any successful prosecution and disciplinary actions?
In 2011, STRIVE said they were gearing up for the new “Bringing in the Bystander” campaign to start in January 2012. The program was modeled after the highly successful and well-researched program of the same name at the University of New Hampshire. Two years later, this program has still not been implemented. What’s more, last month seven different local organizations, including UPD, Alachua County Victim Services and Rape Crisis Center, and GatorWell came together to make two one-minute-long public service announcements encouraging students to intervene and step in if they see a situation that looks like a potential sexual assault. STRIVE, UF’s own rape awareness program, somehow failed to be involved in this community rape awareness project just as it fails to maintain any active involvement in rape prevention, except for during rape awareness month where volunteers sit behind a table with brochures on rape prevention and awareness.
Incompetence and inaction were not always synonymous with UF’s response to rape. As we’ve previously reported, in the 1980s, programs addressing rape prevention were few, but UF had one of the best in the nation.
SARS, Sexual Assault Recovery Service, and COAR, Campus Organized Against Rape, were both campus organizations at UF and founded by therapist Claire Walsh in 1981 and 1982 respectively. Throughout the ’80s, Walsh and COAR representatives supplied information to more than 500 universities and media organizations and served as a model for similar programs at other schools. The programs were a national success.
In the 1988 book titled, “I Never Called It Rape,” one of the first extensive studies of rape on college campuses, COAR was called out as “one of the nation’s most comprehensive programs,” which included a rape-myth quiz, a slideshow of sexual stereotypes in the media, and discussions of body language and assertiveness in dating. COAR also made it a point to discuss the societal and cultural attitudes of men, women and relationships that may lead up to rape situations as well as ways to enhance general communication between men and women.
But in 1991, due to budget cuts and general UF bureaucracy, COAR was defunded. SARS was dismantled and integrated into general counseling in Mental Health Services, forcing rape victims to sign in as mental health patients instead of patients for rape recovery. Unfortunately, because the UF website offers more information on past UF presidencies than the historical significance of its past nationally acclaimed programs, information on COAR and SARS is limited to those who already know the acronyms and can Google them.
It is impossible to move forward and progress in the world if we ignore history. It is the responsibility of our journalists and the media to remind us of that history. When we only consider the present when forming analysis and solutions for well-known historic problems, we are bound to come up short-sighted. Educating on consent is important, but so is rape counseling, so is rape prevention programs doing more than tabling on campus, and so is universities taking rape reports seriously, making sure cases are investigated and convicted rapists are severely punished. Because without policy and punishment, there is little reason to expect victims to come forward and for rapists to stop.
To read more about COAR, SARS and sexual assault prevention in universities read our more in-depth coverage in the article “UF Says Yes to Rape Awareness.”