Social Media Fights Campus Rape Culture

Women attending colleges in the United States are at greater risk for rape than any other female demographic. It is estimated that a college composed of 10,000 female students could experience over 350 rapes per annum.

UpsettingRapeCulture/Tumblr

UpsettingRapeCulture/Tumblr

Notable government interventions have taken the form of legal movements, such as the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act of 1990, the Clery Act of 1990 and the Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights of 1992. A decade since the enforcement of these operations and the incident rates of sexual assaults on college campuses appear unchanged. In response to this, President Barack Obama implemented a task force earlier this year to review how schools address sexual assault crimes.

Controversy concerning sexual assault victimization on college campuses exists in two chief forms. First, there is disagreement between individuals who claim campus sexual assault is an issue in need of urgent address and critics who deem such victimization as a phenomenon conjured by research.

The second controversy is tied to resolving the first: What methodology best provides researchers and the general public with the most interpretable and reliable data? Current research examines trends in the stories of survivors, perpetrator mentality and environmental factors and the effectiveness of campus campaigning.

March 2014 was a spirited month for the news world in concern to rape culture awareness. The recognition of online social media as a fresh, powerful source of advocacy and discussion has been a large contributor to stifling faultfinders of campus rape culture.

First off, President Obama is not alone as a prominent political figure in his declaration of this issue as epidemic. Former President Jimmy Carter is another proponent of the movement to end campus sexual assault. In a video interview online regarding his recent book A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, the previous President contends that sexual assault is often overlooked by college officers.

"They don't want to bring discredit or criticism to the universities to have an increase in reported abuses," Carter states. "What develops on college campuses is serial rapists who know that on a college campus they can get away with it, and they do."

Photo courtesy of Zerlina Maxwell/Facebook

Photo courtesy of Zerlina Maxwell/Facebook

Moreover, political analyst, Zerlina Maxwell, is accredited this month for inventing the viral Twitter statement #RapeCultureIsWhen. The hashtag was a response to op-eds that concurred with a controversial claim regarding rape culture made by Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

RAINN’s original statement was written to the White House task force in an attempt to isolate what the organization believes to be the true cause of rape. "In the last few years, there has been an unfortunate trend towards blaming 'rape culture' for the extensive problem of sexual violence on campuses,” RAINN states.

“While it is helpful to point out the systemic barriers to addressing the problem, it is important to not lose sight of a simple fact: Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime."

In a recent interview with HuffPost Live, Maxwell disagrees with RAINN’s claim that sexual violence is not a part of American culture. “Young people don't necessarily see women automatically as human beings, whole human beings, people. They see them as over-sexualized objects to be conquered. That's the thread in all of romantic comedies. That's the thread, really, in many NCAA sports.” She concludes, “Women are just seen as trophies, as objects."

Last, the esteemed Peabody Award has been given this month to two University of Oregon students for a 25-second long anti-rape Youtube video titled “A Needed Response.” University of Oregon student and now-alumnus, Samantha Stendal and Aaron Blanton, posted the video a year ago in response to the Steubenvile, Ohio rape case. The Peabody Awards recognizes successful media storytelling performances.

At both the governmental and non-profit levels, empirical efforts to gain a better understanding of rape culture and its derivations in the college environment are being made. However, these organizations are not underestimating the power of simple social media contributions, from hashtags to under-one-minute Youtube videos, in their abilities to provoke newfound ideas in how to effectively end college rape culture.

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