7 Things To Tell Students About Sexual Assault

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When people respond to sexual assaults by talking about what the victim said, did, or wore, they send the message that it's women's and other potential victims' responsibility to stop the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses. That's why it's often said that instead of telling students not to get raped, we should be telling them not to rape. But "don't rape" isn't going to get us very far. We need to give people the information they need to understand what sexual assault is and how to ensure that you and those around you are not committing it.

Most schools aren't overtly telling students not to get raped, of course, but they are doing things that send that message. Cautioning women to avoid drinking for the sake of their safety, for example, ignores the fact that sexually assaulting a drunk person is a decision a perpetrator makes — which can be prevented not by the person not drinking, but by the perpetrator not sexually assaulting the person. (Such a novel idea!) School dress codes can serve a similar function by teaching women not to "tempt" sexual harassment, as if people don't have control over whether they harass someone — when in reality, it's not what someone chooses to wear that causes harassment, but by someone choosing to harass someone else.

Instead of essentially saying things that communicate the message "don't get raped," here are some things administrators, professors, and peers can say to actually help prevent sexual assault — without falling into the trap of victim-blaming.


Any Sexual Contact Without Enthusiastic Consent Is Sexual Assault

"Don't rape" neglects a lot of what sexual assault can include, especially when the image we have of "rape" exclusively involves a stranger using physical force against someone who is outwardly protesting. Sexual assault can include any unwanted sexual contact, and as long as the victim did not consent, their behavior is irrelevant.


You Need To Ask For Consent

You can't assume someone is consenting because they're silent, they've consented to a different activity, or they've consented to the same one before. When in doubt, you need to ask.


The Person Has To Be Capable Of Consenting

If someone is too drunk or high to give consent, it doesn't matter if they say "yes." They can only give consent when they're in a state of mind that renders them capable of making decisions.


Look Out For Your Friends

Bystander intervention works. If a friend or someone else around you seems uncomfortable or like they're being pressured into a situation they don't want to be in, check up on them and make sure they're OK, and help get them out if they need it.


Anyone Can Be A Victim

Look out for everyone, because nobody is exempt from the campus assault epidemic. Nine percent of men surveyed by the Association of American Universities, for example, had been sexually assaulted by their senior year of college.


Anyone Can Be A Perpetrator

Similarly, you can't assume someone's not a perpetrator because they're a woman or because they're well-liked. It can be hard to believe that someone you know and trust is capable of sexual assault, but that's how rape culture works — it influences the behavior even of seemingly good people.


Believe Survivors

False sexual assault reports are rare, and encountering a lack of sympathy can re-traumatize the victim. So if somebody confides in you that they've been sexually assaulted, show compassion and ask them what you can do to help.