Guest Author: Barbara Lee
Senior Editor, Robyn Shulman
College Sexual Assault
The national spotlight is shining brighter than ever on the issue of sexual assaults on college campuses. Many colleges and universities are being accused of not doing enough to protect students or not handling accusations swiftly and sternly. Students, college administrators and even the White House are coming together in a call to action to make it stop – but of course, the challenge is how to do just that.
We need to start by talking to and teaching our young people about the realities of sex. We need to stop inundating young college students with adult sexual content – without giving them the tools to deal with their own sexuality and the repercussions of their choices. We have traditionally framed our approach to sexuality in the context of shame-based teachings. But, shame is not an effective tool for experiencing healthy sexuality. If we are going to reduce sexual assaults, we need to talk realistically about sex in a way that builds a foundation of self respect. People who respect themselves do not disrespect other people.
College Sexual Assault and Online Influence
It is important to recognize that college students are watching and using internet pornography often and that affects their world view. We need to provide opportunities to talk to young people about what they are watching and how it is affecting their attitudes about sex and about other people. We need to talk candidly about the differences between pornography and reality, including what real people do and what they like. We need to make sure that young people understand that pornography provides a lens for objectifying human beings. We need to present young people with forums that re-humanize people and offer tools for healthy relationships.
Our culture must stop glorifying male sexual conquests – that only creates an unhealthy need to prove one’s manhood through sexual encounters. We need to look at men with a sense of compassion. We need to help boys feel good about themselves beginning at birth so they have the self respect needed to know how to respect others, including people of all genders and sexual orientations, when they are older.
Shame-based teachings have also created a culture in which women often give mixed signals about sex. On one hand they want to respond to the natural sexual impulses of their bodies, but on the other hand they have been taught that doing so labels them as something less than they are. The fact that many women give mixed signals is NOT an excuse for men to commit sexual assault. What it means is that it is imperative that men recognize their responsibility in making sure that sex is consensual at every point. In order for men to protect themselves and their partner, they need to ask and get a definitive answer of yes before anything takes place – at every point.
Sexual violence of any kind must be criminalized. Young people need to know that their actions will be taken seriously. They need to know that there are stiff criminal penalties and real life consequences awaiting anyone that violates another human being. We need to make it clear to young people that there is never an excuse for abuse and it should never be tolerated. We need to give them tools to identify abuse in their own lives so that they choose to make healthy relationship choices.
Our society is polarized between the idea that sex is a sin and sex is a sport. We need to find that healthy place where we celebrate our sexuality and treat it with moral integrity – sextegrity. Elements of sextegrity include mutual consent, maturity, responsibility, equality, relational intimacy, authenticity and joy.
Real conversations, teachings and cultural adjustments are the first steps to bringing a real stop to the overwhelming prevalence of sexual assaults at colleges and universities around the nation. It is time to help our young people learn about themselves and their sexuality in a healthy and realistic way. We must have a real dialogue with college students about how to set safe boundaries for themselves and why it is important to live within those boundaries for the health and safety of themselves and their partners.
Barbara Lee is author of Sacred Sex: Replacing the Marriage Ethic with a Sexual Ethic and Tension in The Tank. She works with organizations to empower and equip people to make healthy sexual choices. http://www.barbaraleeauthor.com/ and http://www.thesexminister.com/
From Robyn Shulman, Senior Editor:
To read more about college sexual assault and prevention, please browse through our site for more higher education related articles. You can also read more about college sexual assault, hear true stories and learn about the history of this very serious problem at npr.org. If you are looking for more data, please see this campus fact sheet, located at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
Sexual battery is defined as unwanted or non-consensual sexual contact. The definition is not broad. Please be safe.