It seems that nearly every first-year student coming to campus is aware of the dreaded “Freshman 15” — the fabled 15-pound weight gain caused by a diet of Ramen Noodles and Easy Mac. Unfortunately, there is one other lesser known statistic that can have a huge impact on students’ lives: 20-25 percent of college women experience attempted or completed rape during their college career.
Think about that for a minute. That’s one out of every four or five female college students. Those aren’t just random college students; they are our friends, dating partners, sorority sisters, teammates, neighbors, family members and classmates. While the majority of rape and sexual assault survivors are female, sexual violence is by no means solely a “women’s issue.” The fact is, 99 percent of people who rape are men (not to mention that roughly 9 percent of rape and sexual assault victims are men). What this means is that both women and men are impacted by sexual violence, either directly or indirectly, and both women and men share the responsibility of prevention. This is a statistic that affects all of us.
When I say prevention, you might be thinking about learning self-defense, carrying pepper spray or walking in well-lit areas at night. Those methods of prevention place a lot of responsibility on potential victims, and they assume that the perpetrator is always going to be some scary guy with a knife hiding in a dark place. While that does happen, most sexual assaults are committed by acquaintances — people we hang out with, party with and go on dates with. In those circumstances, effective prevention means holding people accountable for being respectful and not putting others in positions of feeling violated, fearful or out of control.
Perhaps the best method of prevention is to make sure that all of our hookups are consensual. That seems simple enough, but when it comes down to finding the words to talk about sex and intimacy, many people often draw a blank. No matter how smart UCI students are (and they’re pretty smart!), most people have never been taught how to ask for consent in a sexual situation. It’s as easy as it sounds — just ask! You may be wondering how to do that without feeling awkward or ruining the mood. You might try leaning in and softly whispering, “Would you mind if I kissed you?” or try asking the person you’re with what they’d like to do. Talking about desires and expectations can be really sexy, and it never hurts to let your partner know that you respect them enough to ask. The point is, we need consent to be in the clear in a sexual situation, and the only way to be sure that we have consent is to ask. If you’re afraid of looking silly or getting shot down, get over it. A little embarrassment is a lot better than the possible consequences of not asking.
So now that everyone is going to ask for consent, it’s important to remember to accept the potential response, whether it’s “yes” (which you hope for!) or “no” (a bummer, but definitely important to know). “No” doesn’t mean wait a little bit and try again; it doesn’t mean pout until you get your way. “No” means stop. But “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes.” Here’s an example: if someone is too drunk to make an informed decision about what they’re doing, they can’t legally give consent. We seem to understand that people who are too drunk should not be able to drive cars. Why is that? Because someone might get hurt. It seems logical that people who are drunk should also refrain from hooking up for exactly the same reason. This is where friends come in. Just like we would take away the car keys from someone who is too drunk to drive, we should also intervene if someone is too drunk to get or give consent. A simple, “Hey man, that’s not a good idea” or some other distraction would work just fine. While putting yourself in a dangerous situation is not necessary, a good friend has the responsibility to do something, anything, to look out for their friends and prevent sexual assault.
There are plenty of other ways that we can all work together to address sexual assault on campus. Take advantage of the resources at UCI. Did you know that there’s a department on campus that provides counseling and prevention resources for sexual assault, stalking and relationship abuse? UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE) offers a variety of services regarding these issues, which are all confidential and completely free of charge for students. CARE also sponsors peer-education groups (CHAMPS and Right to KNOW) where students can get course credit and great experience doing sexual assault prevention workshops and events on campus. Check out www.care.uci.edu to learn more.
While gaining 15 pounds might be absolutely terrifying for some people, it pales in comparison to the experience of sexual assault or rape. new students should keep in mind that the greatest risk for sexual assault is during the first six weeks on campus. I don’t tell you this to make you afraid, I tell you this so that you can educate yourself, make responsible decisions and work together to create a campus that is safe and enjoyable for all of us. Have a great year, Anteaters!
Robert Buelow is the Violence Prevention Coordinator for UCI Campus Assault Resources and Education (CARE). He can be reaached at firstname.lastname@example.org.