It's not something young college girls (or even college boys) think of when they're packing their bags and heading to college for the first time. Yet sexual assault is an unfortunately common problem, and not by any means a recent phenomenon. At current present, 1 in 4 college women are survivors of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Statistics also show that up to 85 percent of rape is in fact acquaintance rape -- sexual abusers can be anyone ranging from classmates to co-workers. We don't talk about it much, but it's an issue that needs confronting.
It's an unfortunate reality that women are under silent pressure to be as sexy as possible whether it be Halloween, nights at South Beach or the Grove but if they are assaulted it's perceived to be their own fault for "provoking them." So how seriously is University of Miami taking sexual assaults? In contrast to other universities -- such as UConn, which failed to investigate sexual assault reports and protect victims and Emerson College, which took several months to even investigate a student's reported sexual assault -- my university, the University of Miami, thankfully offers a variety of resources available to sexual assault victims.
The University of Miami has S.A.R.T (Sexual Assault Response Team), a 24-hour hotline that is always available for people to report their assaults and talk about their situation, and is handled by trained counsellors. The counseling center is also there for anyone to speak about their experiences. Furthermore, the No Zebras chapter on campus aims to "address and reform the behaviors, ideas, and misconceptions, of the University of Miami student body regarding sexual assault." Its goal is to spread awareness about the issue of sexual assault and educate the UM community through its events such as Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, and Take Back the Night. Their recent event on October 16, the Clothesline Project, addressed the issue of violence against women. By decorating a shirt, people expressed their emotions and supported those who had been victims of domestic or sexual abuse. By displaying the shirts along the Foote Green, it was hard to ignore the issues being raised and was a step forward in making the rather taboo issue of sexual harassment being discussed.
Although these are positive steps in making change on campus, underneath the surface there is still a lot of victim-blaming and slut-shaming. Merely recording accounts of sexual harassment will not change attitudes. More than a few of us students have heard people say things like, "I know you want it" (not too unlike the much reviled lyric of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"). Rather, it is up to universities to challenge the sexual harassment that permeates college life and change societal norms. This all beings with educating its student body from the beginning of freshmen year in order for there to be a decreasing in sexual assaults or harassment.
Stephanie Rey, President of No Zebras, concurs:
"The fact that the university is so open to discussing sexual assault is a very positive thing. However, UM should work on more accurately reporting the instances of sexual assault. In the last crime report, UMPD reported only three cases of sexual assault. The statistical likelihood of a woman being assaulted while in college is 1 in 4, so having only three cases is a gross under representation. UM also needs to be more transparent about how they handle sexual assault cases, because at the present it's a rather convoluted process."
University of Miami have a responsibility to not brush this issue under the carpet, but instead face it head on. Women are not the problem; victim-blaming, however, is.
As a shirt at Clothesline aptly argued effectively: "Rape culture. If you don't say anything about it, you're part of the problem."