We live in a rape culture. Underneath our society is an environment of unreported rapes and sexual assaults that occur when rape is ignored or normalized and victims are blamed or disbelieved. Sexual violence is a societal issue that extends to affect college campuses and the students that inhabit them. Deeming a specific environment a “rape culture” is difficult, especially when the subject is so clouded and shadowed in secrecy.

Rape and sexual assault certainly exist on college campuses around the country. In 2012, the Washington Post reported more than 3,900 reports of forcible sex offenses on college campuses nationwide. Last year’s annual UTSA’s security report recorded seven. These are documented incidents reported to law enforcement. These numbers reflect the 0.02% percent total of all enrolled students around the country who chose to report forcible sex offenses to campus police or local police every year.

Because a majority of rape and sexual assault victims do not report their crimes to law enforcement, it is difficult to truly understand the extent of the issue. What we know about how frequently these events occur is based on a number of different anonymous surveys. The National Institute of Justice estimates that between 18 and 20 percent of college women experience rape or some other form of sexual assault during their college years — but even that statistic is heavily debated.

It isn’t hard to see why rape and sexual assault have low incidents of report. It is a crime that violates one’s body at the most intimate level, and often the offender is someone that the victim knows.

Feelings of shame and guilt can overwhelm a victim, and for the victim, reporting the crime can feel like living the experience all over again. Yet, reporting these crimes is essential to solving this issue. Not only can it help prevent criminals, but also can lead to more accurate statistics on the issue.

A college environment could easily inhabit a culture of rape. Attending college for the first time is about new experiences, which beyond higher learning, include drugs, alcohol and sex. Students are warned of the dangers of alcohol but are often faced with it in the moment, usually for the first time at a party where they do not know their limits. “Incapacitated sexual assault,” meaning sexual assault that occurred under the influence of drugs or alcohol, accounts for more than half of reported sexual assaults. Students who are in sororities, have numerous sexual partners, or are underclassman have an increased risk of being victimized by sexual assault. Inexperience and unrealistic social expectation can make certain individuals more vulnerable to sexual assault.

The greatest issue is how our society views rape — often alienating the actors involved in rape from the act itself. Of course, it is difficult to believe and accept that our daughters, sons and loved ones could be victimized in such a terrible way. It is just as worse to imagine our sons, fathers or brothers could commit such heinous crimes onto another person. If more people understood the actions that happen before being shocked when it happens to someone they know and love, the after math and the stigma of rape could be minimized.

Rape is not a crime localized to college campuses. It disregards institutional parameters, inflicting society as a whole. The issue needs to be addressed and discouraged. Institutions should place a greater emphasis on assisting and creating a system where victims are not afraid for themselves or their reputation should they report the crime. Incoming students should be better prepared for the new experiences that are inextricable from college life. Until we, as a society, remedy the way that we view rape and sexual assault, it is up to students to prepare and protect themselves from sexual violence on and off campus.

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