THE BLOG

College Culture Is Teaching Victim-Blaming

10/30/2013 03:44 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Earlier this month, Daisy Coleman published her version of the highly-contested rape case from Maryville, Mo. Her story is in-depth and emotionally vivid, but pales in comparison to the response. Her community returned with comment saying she was "asking for it" and "got what was coming" and posts on social media labeled Daisy a "skank" and "liar." These consistent accusations and disbelief that a 14-year-old girl who was incoherent and left with uncomfortable injuries has confused her own mistake with rape send a resounding message: Victim blame is still striving in America.

As a college student, I'm familiar with the three-day weekend bar crawl, the frat-hop, the copious drinking and resulting drunken hook-ups. Drunken sex has become a commonality for younger generations and with it, the disappearance of a differentiation between harmless fun and sexual assault.

Today, 90 percent of college rapes go unreported nationwide. Those that are reported are met with criticism and ridicule. After all, how can a victim feel safe reporting an incident to their university, or their friend, when they know they will be written off or made to feel guilty for their own drunken mistake? The current atmosphere makes it easy to come up with excuses. "You shouldn't have gone home with him"; "you shouldn't have gotten so drunk, right?"Wrong. We've created a new rape culture that blames victims for getting themselves into situations that resulted in assault, and it needs to stop.

It starts with insensitive students and friends, but this culture is further perpetuated in student judicial services at universities across the country. A study by the Center for Public Integrity showed that 75 to 90 percent of disciplinary actions doled out by college judicial boards amounted to minor sanctions. Such examples included writing a letter of apology, making a presentation to a campus advocacy group, or most popular: social probation. Social probation anyone familiar with campus life will recognize is in reality little more than a warning not to step out of line again. In Daisy's case, a public court dropped the case with little explanation.

Let's remember: Rape is a crime. Yet, we are not treating it that way.

These national stories and judicial ignorance's are making fast acting impressions on college students. "He's in one of my classes, so I'm trying not to let it bother me too much," was the response one of my friends recently offered me. "I couldn't press charges, because one of my friends didn't want to get him in trouble so she wouldn't talk to the university police," was another.

Emily Yoffe's recent Slate article summarized the lesson we have begun preaching: "Tell female college students to stop drinking." This is the message society has taught us, and that our colleges have taught us. From the football players in Maryville, to every ignorant student judicial board, culture continues to reinforce victim blame in sexual assault cases, especially those taking place on college campuses. The common mantra persists: stay silent, and don't make a fuss.

The bottom line is we're perpetuating rape, by not punishing it, by not believing when it's happened, and for not wanting to talk about it. It's not only in the hands of university officials who are ignoring the issue; it's the friends who continue to ignore the questionable details of his latest "score." It's disregarding the importance, when she tells you that she said "no," and he didn't listen. As fellow students, as friends and as witnesses we need to stop ignoring this problem. Elizabeth Smart, a kidnapping and sexual assault victim, phrases it best: "to pretend like it never happened, or to pretend like rape doesn't exist or that it only happens in the wrong parts of town -- you're doing that survivor a disservice."