College stereotypes enable sexual harassment, assault

College campuses are hotbeds for sexual assault, and college-aged women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other women. Although some might qualify the increase in sexual assault by saying that college is a hypersexualized place, perhaps the problem is that too many college students are buying into that same theory.

Amanda Hess made a great point on her blog The Sexist about how sexual assault on college campuses isn’t treated as seriously as it is in other parts of society:

Because many college students choose to have sex—and sometimes, lots of it—we deny them to right to ever choose not to do it.

Because we hypersexualize college students in this way, we tolerate sexual assaults on college campuses that we would never tolerate in other communities—in the workplace, in public spaces, in society at large.

This plays a big part in the victim-blaming game — college is expectedly so rife with alcohol and sex that people seem to expect sexual assault to happen. But this expectation doesn’t end with people outside of college communities — this expectation trickles down to college students themselves.

This is a dangerous notion, because college students also buy into the hype. Men feel unashamed when they try to grope women at parties or in passing, and women feel ashamed about confronting a man who gropes them because it’s seen as playful, innocent and harmless — college men are expected to do a little groping, and women who protest are prudes. Because of this, women tend to brush aside most groping incidents because they normalize it in their minds, too.

But what is normal isn’t necessarily what’s right, and it isn’t right that college women are sexually assaulted more merely because society construes college to be a high-risk environment and enables the behavior. Far too often, men feel entitled to sexually harass, grope and assault women, and this entitlement is prevalent more in college than anywhere else.

This normalization of sexual harassment and assault needs to stop, especially because it enables a pattern of behavior that continues after college ends. Men might feel comfortable continuing this behavior in the workplace, for example, and women might continue silently taking it because it’s become routine and is occuring in a more serious place — a work setting — where the consequences for being outspoken could be extreme if the perpetrator is in a position of power.

Nipping the problem in the bud means not enabling anymore. As women, we need to be more comfortable with and outspoken about confronting men who grope. Don’t nervously laugh it off anymore. For men, the solution is simple: don’t grope. The whole “prude” argument is ridiculous — you know very well when you’re groping someone without their consent. And don’t nervously laugh when you feel uncomfortable about a friend who’s groping someone else.

Instead of buying into the stereotypes, society at large needs to realize that first and foremost, college is supposed to be a place for learning. College-aged students might be enjoying freedom for the first time, but since when is sexual assault the price of freedom?


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