Approximately one in five college women and one in 16 college men will be a victim of sexual assault. About 37 percent of female rape victims in the United States were first raped between the ages of 18 to 24, or during their college years. These statistics are horrific and disheartening, and are representative of a systemic issue that plagues America’s universities. What is even more difficult to consider is that these statistics may not be representative of the actual occurrence of sexual assault on campus, as assault is notoriously underreported. In an effort to mitigate these existing issues, universities across the country have implemented different programs, primarily targeted toward incoming freshmen, to educate future students on the prevention of sexual assault.
When I attended my freshman orientation, I vaguely recall sitting in a room learning about the importance of bystander intervention and participating in a hypothetical scenario between “Karen” and “Jared,” which involved red, yellow and green lights. What I have since realized regarding my experience at orientation is that there was minimal discussion about sexual assault outside of the context of drinking. Similarly, I have begun to realize that the boards and posters in dorm hallways that include fast facts about the importance of consent primarily focus on consent while intoxicated. This is understandable, as at least 50 percent of reported sexual assaults involve alcohol. However, it is obligatory to discuss sexual violence and consent even if the perpetrator and victim are sober. In educating students and faculty about consent on college campuses, we must not reduce the incidence of sexual assault to something that happens while intoxicated, or to consider it as a byproduct of drinking culture in college.
Perhaps only second to drinking, the hookup culture in college is aggressively new, unfamiliar to most and extremely prevalent. Through apps like Tinder and its recent add-on called Tinder University, developed solely for college students, hookup culture is constantly kept alive and well. When freshmen arrive at college, it is important that those orientation activities take into account the effect of these apps and the existing culture associated with college life. When hookup culture is prevalent, there are often expectations that are associated with engaging in it, whether that means expecting sex when meeting up with a Tinder match, or something more nefarious. These expectations can have toxic results, and education is often the best form of early prevention.
It is necessary to distinguish between the cultures of casual sex and drinking (although they do often intertwine) as they do not exclude students who choose to participate in one but not the other. Furthermore, it perpetuates a stereotype of hookup culture as dependent on alcohol, which, despite being partially true, can lead to inefficient discourse regarding consent. Similarly, programs on the Binghamton University campus should also educate incoming students on interrelationship violence and assault and teach about warning signs of abusive relationships, or where to find the necessary resources for help in such situations.
Ultimately, programs found on college campuses that aim to educate students about consent before they get to college are absolutely imperative, but is important that these programs and what they are teaching do not confound alcohol and sexual assault. Despite the alarming frequency at which these two are found together, it is necessary to remember that drinking does not cause rape; rapists cause rape. Similarly, teaching about sexual violence solely in the context of intoxication diminishes the reality of sober victims, which could potentially lead to underreporting or develop an atmosphere of denial in the case of assault in relationships. Sexual assault, regardless of the circumstances, must not be ignored.
Theodora Catrina is a sophomore majoring in mathematics.