University must do more to address rape culture

Recently, USC has received negative press about how administrators and the Dept. of Public Safety handle rape and sexual violence on campus. On July 22, a heavy-hitting article detailing USC’s failure to address rape complaints ran in the Huffington Post.

Several days after the article ran, Elizabeth Garrett, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, sent an email to the USC community responding to the article. In her letter, she stated that USC has “awareness programs for all students during Welcome Week and throughout the year on sexual violence.” She also mentioned that “confidential counseling and advocacy, and advice on obtaining medical care, are available through our Sexual Assault Resource Center,” and provided a number that victims can call 24/7.

Though USC has taken important steps to address these allegations, these efforts do not erase or attempt to change the abhorrent attitudes that USC officials expressed toward rape victims. A rape-normalizing culture exists at USC, and there are many more steps our school can take to promote a more respectful culture, support victims and punish offenders. USC can emerge as a pioneer in addressing rape culture at universities across America by implementing a three-pronged solution.

Step 1: Create a better understanding of “consent.” The single most effective way to prevent rape at our school is to ensure that all students know what rape means.

Sexual contact without consent is sexual assault, and there are three components to consent: one, the participant must be old enough to consent to sex — age 18 in California. Two, the participant must agree to the sexual contact. The frequently quoted guideline, “no means no,” while accurate, does not fully encompass this aspect of consent. Silence does not mean “yes” either. The safest way to handle this is to go by the rule, “yes means yes.”

The third component of consent is perhaps the most difficult to ascertain: both participants must have the capacity to consent. For example, certain mental illnesses can render an individual unable to legally consent to sex. Similarly, alcohol and drugs can render a person unable to consent to sex.

That’s not to say that all cases of drunk sex are rape. However, according to Title IX Section 261 of the California Codes, if alcohol prevents a person from resisting sex when they otherwise would not comply, and/or causes the person to be unconscious or asleep, having sex with them is legally rape.

This type of sexual assault is far more common than a creepy rapist lurking in an alley. The issue was brought to light by a Facebook page created by a USC student last year. The page, called USC Hookups, provided an open forum for students to anonymously post about their sexual exploits. The page received backlash from people who felt it was distasteful or even disgusting for students to share these intimate details. However, while exploiting one’s own sex life is a personal choice, the USC Hookups page also received criticism for trivializing and mocking rape.

One particular story from the page stirred controversy for making light of a clear case of rape. In the post,  a male student recounted a conversation with a girl he slept with the previous night. She asked him what happened the next morning, because she was so drunk that she blacked out. She asked him if she cheated on her boyfriend, and he said, “Definitely,” and laughed. She left crying.

One cannot expect cavalier attitudes toward rape to change if people do not know what rape is. USC already has sexual violence awareness programs during Welcome Week for freshmen, but clearly this is not enough.

Step 2: Provide more comprehensive support for victims. Currently, USC offers counseling and a 24-hour phone number for rape victims. Due to the high frequency of sexual assault on college campuses,  however, this is not enough support. One victim, who wished to remain anonymous, said the Engemann Student Health Center provided her no treatment whatsoever. They never conducted a medical examination or conducted blood or urine tests for date-rape drugs. The only counseling offered was a referral to the Center for Women & Men.

The establishment of a rape treatment center on campus as an extension of the new health center or the Center for Women & Men is critical.

Students who are raped on campus should have access to full, comprehensive victim care. Otherwise, students without a car would be burdened with finding transportation to a treatment center while dealing with the trauma of rape.

In addition, there must be a radical change in the way DPS officers initially respond to a rape victim. Appropriate first responses to rape allegations are compassionate, and do not blame the complainant. Sensitivity training for all DPS officers to prevent such highly inappropriate reactions to rape would be a good start.

Step 3: Enforce harsh punishments for offenders. Punishment for rape must be severe. Convicted rapists go to prison, so at the very least, USC should implement the harshest punishment possible from a school: expulsion.

Though USC is far from the only university in the United States with problematic attitudes towards rape, it can function as a pioneer in addressing the issue. By implementing processes and programs that treat every facet of rape culture, USC can lead the way in combating rape on college campuses.


Lisa Gerstley is a  sophomore majoring in business administration.


Follow Daily Trojan on Twitter @dailytrojan

6 replies
  1. SDAdude
    SDAdude says:

    It breaks my heart that this is what our university is known for right now. USC is such a great school, but unfortunately that’s being overlooked because of this misogynistic culture that has developed thanks to the frats’ general insistence on the objectification of women and the sororities’ general willingness to be objectified. We’re more proud to be known as the “University of Sexy Chicks” than we are of our leading academics. I know that people are hesitant to blame the Greeks, but as a GDI, I’m not afraid to say that the Row needs more patrolling because, and I do not think that it’s a stretch to say this, it’s getting to be out of control. Last year, after several people were taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning on the same night, the Greek community was “punished” by being put on probation, meaning that for two weeks, students could only party on Friday and Saturday, and parties had to be approved by the University. That’s all. Also, this “rape culture” that USC is accused of harboring, is largely due to the severe and extreme objectification of women within fraternities. It wasn’t too long ago that USC was in the national news for a horrifyingly cruel and sexist email sent out among the Kappa Sig fraternity as well as graphic pictures of students (Greeks) having sex on the roof. These incidences are just the tip of the iceberg; the most newsworthy stories of the chauvinism that is rampant on the row. It would seem that Greek parties are less about socializing and letting loose with our peers, and more about getting as many girls as drunk as possible to cater to the genitalia of the members of the frats. Now, I realize that placing the blame solely on the Greeks is simplifying a complicated issue. I wish that there was a clear-cut villain in all of this that we could neatly point to for all of these problems, but that’s not the case. Yes, Greek culture is a part of the issue, but so is DPS’s response to complainants and the University’s handling of the entire thing. However, I don’t think that it’s accurate to say that Greek culture plays no part in USC’s rape culture. The Row is definitely a contributing force, and the sooner the University stops pushing it under the rug, the sooner we can start healing this wound that has been afflicted on the Trojan family.

  2. USC parent
    USC parent says:

    I had not read Provost Garrett’s letter when I wrote the above. USC has mounted a considerable response to rape claims. What is needed are preventive measures which address the permissive attitude toward underage drinking and behavior incompatible with a top academic university.

    Last year when there was excessive drinking and rowdy behavior in front of Greek houses, the USC dean’s response to “take it inside” behind closed doors was a very problematic, enabling message, for example. The new dean and assistant dean will likely evolve a more appropriate, supportive and educational approach to encourage more adaptive interpersonal behavior both in public and behind closed doors.

  3. USC Mom w/ Greek Son
    USC Mom w/ Greek Son says:

    I’m glad to finally see an article on this subject appear in the DT. It seems this issue has been covered up long enough. I hope any future investigations are fair to both parties.

    God Bless!

  4. douglas2k
    douglas2k says:

    The University of Michigan, along with many other American universities, will roll out a new policy on the handling of sexual assault cases on campus. This will include mandatory training on the new policy for all students. UM still wants to cover up a rape case involving two of their star football players that they refused to investigate.

    In 2009, Brendan Gibbons was a red shirt freshman field goal kicker for the University of Michigan football team. However, before his first varsity kick, he was arrested shortly after the Michigan/Ohio State football game in 2009, for raping an 18 yr. old freshman at a party in the Chi Psi fraternity house. The police refused to release his name or confirm his arrest so the local newspaper did not publish a story about his arrest.

    The victim immediately began receiving threats against her if she pressed charges, including a threat to rape her again if she pressed charges from All American football player, Taylor Lewan. She left school for 2 months and stopped receiving or returning the phone calls from police so the investigation was stopped. When she returned to school, she tried to file a complaint against Gibbons through the University’s more private student disciplinary process but many University officials told her that there was nothing they could do since she did not press criminal charges.

  5. USC parent
    USC parent says:

    The Huffington Post article referenced above presents significant concerns for USC to address (Radiostar would do well to read it). It is essential that effective leadership be shown by the new dean and assistant dean of students. The permissiveness and lack of oversight in the past has led to an on campus shooting and unchecked Greek and likely non Greek behavior that has substantially detracted from the atmosphere on campus and USC’s ascension as a top academic university. This is a well thought-out DT article that provides the administration with excellent suggestions.

  6. Radiostar
    Radiostar says:

    Rape culture doesn’t real.

    If you’re raped then go to the police. Why is it a University’s job to investigate a rape case. If a student was murdered on campus, would we turn to the administration to get to the bottom of this? Of course not, the police would be involved immediately. The same should be true of any other serious felony.

    Your definition of consent is silly too. If nothing less than a verbal “yes” equals consent, then my boyfriend and I sexually assault each other every day. All of my friends are serial sexual assaulters as well.

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