Don’t shine a light on me: Sexual assault prevention strategies can only work if campaigns make assaulters the targets

Logo+that+reads+%22Not+Any+More%22

Image courtesy of Barbara Wells, Campus Programs Director of Student Success and Nformd.

Hansook Oh

Many of us completed at what felt like the last minute “Not Anymore,” the required 75-minute online sexual assault prevention program for freshmen, transfer students and graduate students.

I know I didn’t make it a priority, as I completely forgot about it until a day before it was due. This was not because I am a graduate student with too many theoretical papers on her plate and not enough headspace to squeeze in one more thing to do (although this is accurate of how I usually feel). It was because I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I am a sexual assault survivor. I was just four years old when one afternoon, a male teenage neighbor who babysat me from time to time, orally raped me and then attempted to vaginally rape me. The latter was not completed due to obvious anatomical reasons.

While this did not happen to me on a college campus as a student, I didn’t experience the full extent of trauma from my rape — and I say rape because forced oral copulation is still rape — until I was 19, in my sophomore year. I experienced a sudden wave of guilt, shame, anger, regret and anxiety, and had no idea why. I was acting out, incredibly depressed, engaging in self-harm and putting myself in risky situations.

I didn’t get assaulted in a dorm room or at a party, so I cannot speak to that horrible experience. Still, I psychologically dealt with my rapist as a college student, with classes to juggle, with a part-time job, with a thousand questions, and very few answers. And I know too many female students to count on both hands, who were assaulted and raped before coming to college, still dealing with the pain.

Today, having come out of that episode of trauma and pain as a strong, accomplished and emotionally healthy woman, I have a vested interest in how universities go about “tackling” the issue of sexual assault, but I observe with a suspicious eye. “Not Anymore,” is a grand statement: can a 75-minute online training truly prevent sexual assault in the future?

The training was indeed much better than I expected it to be. It clearly outlined the legal definitions of sexual assault, gave good statistical background, included stories from real survivors, gave a voice to usually neglected individuals such as LGBT and male victims, and described the many other types of harassment people can experience, such as relationship violence, verbal abuse and stalking. Even the weird hamburger analogy was entertaining enough to make up for its ridiculousness.

But it fell short, just as most university campaigns to address sexual assault fall short.

People talk about rape as if it is some kind of campus krampus. Rape doesn’t just happen, people rape people. But campaigns use language that abstractify the act of assaulting and being assaulted, into some kind of common enemy — “Let’s end sexual assault,” or “Together we can stop sexual violence,” or “Let’s raise awareness about sexual assault.”

End how? Stop who? Raise whose awareness?

It is not a bad thing at all that these campaigns give attention to the victims, and help people to be more alert that sexual assault is committed. They speak to people like me and teach non-offenders to look out for it and not to be a bystander. They humanize survivors and give them a platform for empowerment. They show that many rape survivors, women mostly, live among us. They are our friends, sisters, mothers, cousins, fellow students and even professors.

This part of the conversation is excellent. However, these campaigns do not place on center stage the real stars of the show, those who commit sexual assault.

The training taught us that there is no one profile of a rapist. He — and I use that pronoun because the overwhelming majority of sexual offenders are male — is rarely a masked man hiding behind the bushes; he is not Ted Bundy, he is not Jeffrey Dahmer. Though most rape is committed by a smaller population of repeat offenders, he is not a criminal mastermind. He is not a villain in a Bond movie.

It sounds strange, but we need to humanize sexual assaulters. According to the training, 90 percent of sexual assault is committed by someone the victim knows. If rape survivors live among us, rapists also live among us — friends, brothers, fathers, cousins, fellow students, and even professors.

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center states that 20-25 percent of college age women experience completed or attempted rape over the course of a college career. This statistic does not apply in reverse. A fact sheet by the University of Michigan states that a little under nine percent of all college men admitted rape or attempted rape.

But nine percent is a lot of people. There are 18,736 men enrolled at CSUN this semester and if we apply this statistic, potentially about 1,686 male students here have raped or attempted rape. And of the 22,636 female students on campus, up to 4,527 of them have potentially experienced completed or attempted rape.

I hope with all of my heart our numbers fail to meet these statistical probabilities. I am not looking to create an atmosphere of mass paranoia. I know amazing men on this campus who make my life better each and everyday.

But if we repeated those numbers in our head, if we recognized the possibility that over 1,500 of our male students have tried to rape or have raped, could that change how we try to “stop” sexual assault?

CSUN has created a male-centered support group called Men CARE (Creating Attitudes for Rape-free Environments), which is a good first step in teaching college men to be aware of their role in sexual assault. I hope this support group can teach men about pervasive sexism, male privilege and even let them share about their own experiences in gray areas, so they clearly understand what is right and what is wrong. I even hope if a male who has committed rape joins this group, he can realize the extent of his wrongdoing and turn himself in to the police.

We need groups like this to fix attitudes. According to the fact sheet, one in 12 college men committed acts that met the legal criteria of rape, but a whopping 84 percent of them did not consider their actions to be illegal. This is highly disturbing. What if 84 percent of people who murdered someone did not consider it illegal? How is this attitude so different when it comes to rape?

I don’t believe that men who commit rape set out to be rapists most of the time. I don’t think that male college students put rape on the checklist of things to accomplish during their college career, along with getting a good grade point average, taking internships and making lifelong friends.

So then, how do so many college men get to that point? Why do people assault and rape?

That is a question that I’ve always wanted to ask the teenager who violated me. He was only 13 years old, still a minor. Did he see something on TV and was curious to know how it would be like to have sex with someone? Did he have a rare mental disorder, such as psychotic personality disorder? Although the vast majority of rapists are not prior victims, I wonder if he was molested or raped as a child, and was acting it out on me. Or was he just looking for someone to hurt, exercise his power over and ruin?

Since I cannot ask him what I want to, I will ask you, men who have raped or have tried to rape.

Why did you do it? What were you thinking that day or night, when you forced yourself into her, or into him? Did you look the person you assaulted in the eyes, or could you not look at his or her face? How did you feel afterward? Did you feel just as dirty, shocked, ashamed and afraid of the consequences? Do you still think about it, from time to time, freeze up in fear and in disgust? Did you confide in your friends? Did they help you to feel better? Did you even seek help for your problem, knowing that you will have to talk to the police?

And I’m curious about you. How old are you and where did you grow up? Did you have two loving parents who kept you safe? Will you celebrate Thanksgiving this month and go hit up the stores on black Friday? Will you eat pie and turkey and stuffing? Will you be thankful for the things you have in life? Are you currently in love?

And most importantly, will you do it again, or are you telling yourself, “not anymore?”

I don’t care to see another poster with people posing in a tough stance, with a palm in front of serious faces with eyes full of determination, saying no. I don’t need to be told not to let my drink unguarded at a party, be careful with strangers or mutual friends, or to be paranoid when I go out on dates with men – everyone knows that. I don’t need to be told to walk in groups at night. I’ve spent money on pepper spray, tasers and have trained to defend myself.

What I would like to see on campus are posters with piercing eyes looking at you who have raped. I want to see you feel uncomfortable while walking from place to place. I want you to know that you are the enemy we need to fight to end sexual assault. I want you, those who have thought about raping, to be terrified of the consequences.

I want to shine a light on you. I am floodlit with public awareness. I shine bright because I will step forward every single time. I am always watching out for you, waiting to meet you, knowing that no matter how loud I shout, how eloquently I write, my words can evaporate into the ethos and never come back to me, if you ever succeed in taking my power.

You now know who I am. Let’s find out who you are.