Universities must educate to protect

Brock Turner case reiterates that sexual assault prevention begins with mandated education

Gripping her keys in fear when walking through campus late at night wasn't an expereince Kate Cole was expecting. 

I’d always known that coming to Queen’s warranted more responsibility.  

Things like waking up in the morning without the help of my mother or making healthy eating choices, I expected. But coming from a country and a neighborhood where sexual assaults are a rare occurrence, I didn’t realize that walking with my keys gripped tightly in my fist late at night “just in case” would be one of them. 

Personal responsibility has been placed at the forefront of conversations concerning sexual assault, often disregarding the important external factors that add to rape culture on university campuses. 

In spite of it being the perpetrators’ actions that cause pain and suffering, victims are too often blamed for not being better prepared and able to evade attack, while broader environmental influences are forgotten in the process. 

This is particularly evident in the case of Brock Turner, a star swimmer at Stanford University charged with rape, whose trial has recently become a public spectacle. 

After being found guilty of rape, Turner was only sentenced to a mere six months of jail time and three years of probation, with the likelihood of being released after three months.

The leniency of Turner’s sentencing feels unjust and frankly dissatisfying, pretty much as though the cries of the victim went virtually unnoticed. 

Turner’s seemingly hollow apology — that essentially earned him such a light sentencing — attempts to redirect his guilt onto the “party culture” of Stanford and makes me wonder how anyone can be expected to take sufficient responsibility for their actions.

Reading Turner’s statement on how the party culture and excessive drinking at Stanford “shattered” him, initially made me angry.

How could he claim to be the one who was shattered when he is the one who caused such trauma for the victim?

I was angry and uncomfortable with how he appeared to be turning the tables, but after some thought I came to the painful realization that his lack of understanding and inability to empathize is a symptom of something else. 

The fact of the matter is, the “party culture” at universities is just as guilty for turning a blind eye to sexual assault as Turner is for his crimes. University students and administration alike are responsible for the type of environment they create — and it’s their responsibility to change it. 

For that to happen, all students must recognize that sexual assault is a real and legitimate offense and they must, first and foremost, be educated to fully understand that these are severe criminal actions. 

And it’s the responsibility of university administration to take allegations seriously and have appropriate reactions when faced with issues of this nature. 

In other words, for the punishment to fit the crime, we all need to have a strict awareness of what defines the crime, what the consequences are, and what appropriate behavior is without exception. 

It’s an awful realization to make that something  so obviously wrong like rape or any other type of sexual assault still needs to be explained — and yet, here we are. 

The consistency with which we see these cases and how time and again we see so much ignorance concerning victim support, shows that it isn’t so simple.

The absence of a mandated, coherent education on sexual assault and a resourceful support system, paired with the normalization of rape on college and university campuses, makes them ideal environments for sexual assaults to occur. 

Punishment should never be evaded and ignorance of the law is no excuse.

Education remains the best tool at the disposal of universities in truly ridding campuses of this unacceptable culture around sexual assault. Ensuring that students are being taught the moral and legal implications of sexual assault crimes is the responsibility of the universities that host this culture. 

To minimize the risks as much as possible, we need to eliminate simple ignorance and increase mandated education, on both the culture of consent and the consequences of assault, ensuring that no one can claim to not have known the repercussions of their actions. 

Students should be educated about the importance of consent and eliminating campus rape culture, as opposed to the false notion that if girls just wear appropriate clothes, they’ll be able to avoid any unwanted attention. 

Thinking back on those nights I held my keys in my fist, I’m terrified I’ll be the next case that gets swept under the rug. 

The hope is that the necessary support and resources will be readily available to me. On the surface it appears Queen’s offers just that, especially since it established a university-wide policy on sexual violence last March. 

However, reading articles about campus rape survivors, many of whom received blasé reactions from their friends and counselors, and were told not to jump to conclusions,  tells me a simple policy isn’t enough to mold the minds of both students and the administration who have yet to grasp the vitality of consent and reject notions of victim blaming.  

Recalling my first day of Frosh Week, I realize that the events raising awareness on sexual assault and the culture of consent were largely peer-based and lacking in the presence of the administration.

As powerful as the survivor speaker panel and the improv plays were, I want to see the Queen’s administration take a clear stance on what is and what isn’t appropriate behavior. That stance needs to be instilled in students by their institution in a context that can’t be brushed aside as just another event in Frosh Week.

What we need now as a campus community is a commitment to challenge what many fear is an inevitable social condition and to ensure there will be no more room for ignorant excuses.

Kate Cole is a second-year English major. 

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