By Katie McRae, JCADA Summer Intern
A friend of mine once told me that there are only three things you need for college: a rain coat, Ramen noodles, and pepper spray. While the necessity of the rain coat and the noodles was self-explanatory, I remember laughing at the seemingly outrageous idea of the pepper spray. I was unable to connect the dots between the protective pepper spray and the ever-present threat of sexual assault. In my own suburban reality, sexual violence was something I’d only experienced through marathons of “Law and Order: SVU.”
However, through my internship at JCADA this summer, I have come to understand that the pepper spray represents a harsh reality for young women and men. Sexual assault also exists in the suburban lives of my neighbors and friends-- not just in the television lives of strangers on city streets. Assault is not always perpetrated by strangers, but has the capacity to emerge in relationships of all ages. Sexual assault is real and is happening around us. On a college campus, there is always a risk that you might have to use the pepper spray. Whether it is a late-night walk to the dorm from the library or a night out in an unfamiliar environment, there are serious looming threats.
In George Will’s June 6, 2014 editorial in The Washington Post, he glorifies sexual assault on college campuses and says the survivors have a “coveted status.” I cringe at the idea of shaming victims and diminishing the understanding of sexual assault and its seriousness.
Sexual violence on college campuses is a serious issue-- and a vastly under-reported one. Many college campuses do not have the disciplinary infrastructure in place to give survivors a safe place to seek help, which contributes to the under-reporting. According to Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFE), less than one-fifth of campus policies contain “amnesty clauses” that protect survivors who may have been under the influence during their attack. In addition, over two-thirds of campus policies allow for the discussion of the survivor’s sexual history and dress during disciplinary hearings. It is university administrators’ responsibility, when a student comes forward, to provide support and assistance. As we know from all the recent news coverage, colleges have historically fallen short on this and the released statistics of mishandling sexual assault cases are too shocking to ignore.
“No” does not mean “yes” no matter what time you are walking back from the library. No matter what outfit you are wearing to that party. No matter how you are dancing with your friends. No matter how much you have had to drink.
Some campus policies are flawed and some newspaper articles reflect a poor understanding of the real issue of sexual abuse. No individual deserves to be sexually assaulted, and contrary to George Will’s editorial, surviving the traumatic experience is not a desirable status or something to exploit.
I am going off to college next year. I wish packing pepper spray was unnecessary, but the reality is that the spray will be tucked under my rain coat and Ramen noodles. All of us need to acknowledge the realities of sexual assault and engage in effective prevention efforts to lower its rates. I am going to bring pepper spray to school because sexual assault happens. I don’t know what I am going to bring to combat the ignorance.