The Secret Your Son Isn't Telling You About Campus Sexual Assault

The old paradigm of having a talk with our daughters -- which of course we should continue to do -- is not a solution to this epidemic. Not to overstate the obvious; but college women aren't doing the raping!
08/12/2015 02:38 pm ET Updated Aug 12, 2016
Students at Party
Students at Party

A dad sees that girls at his son's school are sending naked or "sexy" pictures on his son's phone. As a 40-something year old male, the dad is shocked (but can't help to feel a tiny bit proud and jealous. After all, in his day porn was hard to come by and it never came from someone you knew!) He wonders, will sex come as easy for his son as the sexting?

Here's a little secret that your teen son isn't telling you as he heads off to campus: he doesn't know what constitutes rape.   For him, there's a gray area -- including, in some cases, the misperceptions that incapacitated women are fair game, or that foreplay is consent. As new measures are enacted on campuses, this could land him in hot water!

These misperceptions are not his fault, necessarily. Parents have largely abdicated our responsibility to have conversations with our sons -- it's awkward, and he just rolls his eyes.  So instead, our media and social media, of which our teens consume more than 11 hours per day, are doing the teaching.

We all want to believe it's not my son.  Not my son who is the 1 in 3 college men who would rape if he could get away with it.  Not my son who is the 1 in 9 college men who have admitted to raping a woman.  Not my son who ruined a young woman's (or man's) life, because he didn't know right from wrong.  But the hard truth is this:  someone's son is doing the raping!

Studies released in the last few months are disturbing.  A Washington Post-Kaiser Foundation survey found that 20% of college women (and 5% of college men) reported being sexually assaulted.  A Journal of Adolescent Health study found that 19% of college women are assaulted freshman year.

The old paradigm of having a talk with our daughters -- which of course we should continue to do -- is not a solution to this epidemic.  Not to overstate the obvious; but college women aren't doing the raping!

A mom is outraged after learning that affirmative consent laws are gaining traction where her son goes to college. She believes it will be an impossible standard to retroactively prove her son's date said yes to sex, potentially ruining her son's future. The mom knows how "girls these days" act, dress and the drinking that occurs on campus. 

If you're still feeling awkward about the conversations, this should get you over the hump:  both Gov Jerry Brown and Gov Andrew Cuomo have signed "affirmative consent" into law.  Also known as "yes means yes," sex without consent is now breaking the law at state colleges in California and New York, and this trend is spreading.

Additionally, Sen Kirsten Gillibrand is sponsoring a bill, the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which will mandate that colleges create strict guidelines for handing sexual assault.

Finally, 124 colleges are under investigation by the Department of Education for mishandling cases of sexual assault, and the list is growing.  Colleges, under increasing scrutiny, are scrambling to revise and tighten their processes for handling sexual assault.

All in all, it's clear the landscape is evolving to greater accountability!

A college student shares her anxiety over starting school this year where she would inevitably run into a classmate who raped her -- but who surely did not see it as rape. Last year they fooled around after studying for a chemistry test. She asked for it to stop after some kissing and touching. He forced himself on her and raped her. The idea that men on campus don't recognize what constitutes rape is absolutely paralyzing for her.

Reading this article may scare and shock you -- and it should!  We should all be outraged that our colleges are not providing a safe environment for our children! As parents, alums, or advocates, here are ways of creating change:

1.  Talk to yours children -- daughters AND sons -- starting in junior high with age appropriate themes, and continuing as they head off to college.  Use teachable moments to create an entry point to conversation.

2.  Demand that our colleges have consent and bystander training for incoming freshman.

3.  Our college should also train Resident Advisors to have conversations, and to be a safe harbor and source of information and resources.

4.  Continuing bystander training and awareness should be mandatory for upperclassman. Video and other educational content should be a prerequisite to class registration.

4.  Encourage your sons and daughters to commit to bystander prevention and intervention:  if you see something, do something!

5.  Colleges should partner with parents:  provide educational content and materials as part of the parents' weekend curriculum.

6.  Is your alma mater under investigation?  Here's the list so far.  Call the office of student life and ask what they are doing about it!

7.  Talk to your fellow parents.  Share this article.  Change comes from awareness.

8.  Race to end sexual assault!  Join us for a 5k walk/run on October 18th in NYC and college campuses to show support for, and unity in ending sexual assault.  #SToPP5k

Sexual assault on campus:  it ends here, it ends now!