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.
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