Although this year’s Pipe Dream sex survey did not ask as many questions pertaining to sexual violence as last year’s did, the response to one particular question on this year’s survey stood out to the Editorial Board: 30 Binghamton University students responded they were not sure if they had sexually assaulted or harassed someone, and 14 students responded that they had.
Of the 669 respondents, only 618 people responded to the question “Have you ever sexually assaulted or harassed someone else?” This question, aside from those that pertained to specific groups, had one of the lowest response rates of the entire survey. The Editorial Board wonders why not everyone answered this question, and whether or not all 618 people were truthful in their responses.
The fact that 30 people were not sure if they had sexually assaulted or harassed someone else raises serious concerns about BU students’ understanding of consent and when a situation becomes violent. Despite the University’s attempts to educate students about consent and sexual violence, knowledge still seems to be lacking.
All incoming freshmen are required to undergo 20:1 Sexual Assault Prevention and Bystander Intervention training at orientation, along with completing an online program prior to the start of the semester consisting of online videos and digital documents, according to the University’s website. Although we believe these educational modules are important and that incoming college students should be taught about these topics, we question the efficacy of these particular methods.
While we appreciate the University’s efforts to educate students, it is clear that they are not universally effective. According to a former 20:1 intern, many students seem to “get it” during the presentations, but the survey results suggest that maybe not everyone is internalizing the material. Moreover, there are no consequences for not completing the online program, which makes it difficult to hold students accountable for understanding crucial concepts like consent.
The Editorial Board also argues that these presentations and programs should not be simply given for the sake of Title IX requirements — they should actually aim to educate students in a way that will stick. We also worry that these topics are not being handled with the utmost care and consideration, which could potentially trigger people in attendance.
These programs may prove to be more effective in educating bystanders in social situations than the actual perpetrators. While we acknowledge that bystander education is imperative in defusing dangerous situations, it does little to prevent sexual violence itself. Additionally, these programs may be harmful in that they teach aggressors the appropriate language surrounding consent, which may allow them to mask their malevolent intentions. This also may give the aggressor the ability to reconstruct the victim’s narrative — they can make it seem like the situation was a “simple misunderstanding” or that they “misread the interaction.”
The Editorial Board does not have a clear-cut solution, and we understand that a university cannot eradicate sexual violence. However, it is evident that the student body as a whole should recognize sexual violence as a social problem and be conscious of giving and receiving consent. Nobody should be unsure whether or not they have committed an act of violence.