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Rape Crisis In Higher Education

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I often feel torn about watching and reading the news. When I was growing up, there were newspapers in the mornings, and the evening news on the TV at 5 or 6. I always felt strangely comforted by Walter Cronkite’s voice: “And that’s the way it is.”

Now we can get news 24/7 from many different sources.

Which leads me to my next point. I just read another article about the “Rape Crisis In Higher Education” and I do NOT have goose bumps. In fact, my stomach is in knots, I feel queasy and sort of dead inside with disgust and sadness. I do feel a flicker of hope that this is a cover story and it’s getting “dramatic” coverage…finally.

But the rest of me feels frustrated; it’s actually rage that this is still going on and has been going on and why we seem to have been asleep at the wheel about this for decades.

Yes, decades. There have been studies after studies about the issues leading up to sexual attacks, prevention, and responses. I guess what I keep looking for is: “In Response to This Report, this school created “this program” and “that program”, and because of this and that, the statistics got down to zero.

There was a study done at the University of Massachusetts in 2002 where the researchers asked college men about their sexual encounters. 6.4% admitted to encounters that were considered attempted rape or rape. However small the number seems, the scariest part is that more than half of them were repeat offenders. Half! The repeat offenders averaged 6 rapes each. Other studies had similar statistics with the repeat offenders.

Since I speak on this topic at colleges, I think about the issues a LOT. And I realize that it is a very difficult subject to talk about with students. The minute I get to this part of my lecture, the second I say “sexual assault” or “gang rape” or “date rape”, every single person in the room tightens their body and they stop breathing. The air in the room gets sucked out by the energy of just saying those words. I also know that when people are not breathing, they have a very hard time retaining information, staying present, and focusing. There is, understandably so, a lot of trauma, fear, and stigma.

Maybe that is one reason I ended up speaking about this. I was a victim of sexual assault as a teen and a freshman in college. I have had the benefit of lots of therapy, and other trainings. And I know what it’s like to be under pressure as a performer. I know that before going on stage as a stand up comic, my heart races, my breathing quickens, and time slows down or speeds up.

Now I am grateful for this adrenaline rush, but for a long time I resisted it. I had to have the “nervous stage fright” thing over and over to be able to get a handle on it.

And I believe that is how you get over nerve racking experiences and difficult conversations. You do it over and over again. And maybe that is one way we are going to solve this issue: to keep talking about it, over and over. We need to keep this conversation going, even if we are squirming in our seats.

Another example I like to use with my students is the “I Love Lucy” show. This show was cutting edge in many ways at the time. Even though Lucy and Ricky were married, they had separate twin beds on TV. No one said the word “pregnant” then, because the word pregnant meant SEX. It was whispered into the other person’s ears: “She’s PG.”

That’s how repressed we were at this time about sex, marriage, and pregnancy. Almost like it was a bad secret that was just not to be discussed. And thank God we have evolved about babies and the whole beautiful process of child birth.

Now you can see deliveries on TV. Now all sorts of family members are invited into delivery rooms. Now we have home births again and birthing pools and tons of books about pregnancy.

The stigma has been erased, mostly.

I am NOT saying that rape or attempted rape is comparable to child birth. My point is that perhaps, as we continue to talk about this horrible issue, and work collectively to eliminate it, we can help remove the stigma. When people feel ashamed they shut down or act out. Shame is directly connected with addiction.

I do not have all the answers about how to protect young women from sexual predators. I do not understand the policies at the colleges. I don’t know how to prevent things from getting cloudy and confusing at night, and under the influence of alcohol or drugs. I only know that I have to keep writing and talking about it. Stay tuned for more comments on the May 26th article in Time.

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