Most women envision the act of rape happening deep in the folds of the cloak of night: a young woman walking through an eerily silent alleyway only to be snatched up by some sort of evil. We are all taught that darkness and strangers are what we should fear most in terms of rape, however, according to Sarah Rankin, the Crime and Sexual Assault Victim’s Services Coordinator, the truth is that it can be more dangerous to go out to parties with people you know then to walk completely alone through campus at night.
“It’s a stereotype that girls should not walk home alone at night,” Rankin said frankly. “It is definitely true that you can be jumped when alone at night, when you are very vulnerable, however the reality is that it is rare for stranger rape to happen. 85 to 90 percent of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.”
If you find this statement to be surprising, you’re not alone: I was shocked, and I felt very naïve. Rankin’s statement absolutely breaks apart my perceptions of where and when I am safe. She discussed the danger of the party or bar scene, especially with the presence of drugs and alcohol. Most college-aged girls have heard about various risk prevention techniques, for example that you should go to bars and parties with friends, cover your drink or accept only closed containers from people you don’t trust.
Whether or not women actually pay attention to these tips is variable, however, because as Rankin also pointed out, the college years are a period of time when women are in the “it’s just not going to happen to me” mindset. A reality check: according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network one out of six women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape.
Clearly, this is an issue that demands attention, but Rankin’s emphasis on where that attention should go may surprise you: although she did point out the importance of self-empowering tools like pepper spray and self-defense classes, Rankin also stated that, “It kind of side tracks us to be thinking what can we, as women, do to prevent rape.”
She went on to say that the some of the best tools to keep women safe are teaching gender equality, talking about the roots of violence against women, teaching how to recognize what may lead to sexual assault and teaching kids how to talk about sex at a young age.
“Most schools teach sexual health including abstinence and contraceptives, but there very rarely is a dialogue about how to have a conversation about consent,” Rankin said. “God forbid we talk about it; it’s so silly that it is this basic thing that most of us are going to do in some time of our life and we are not equipping youngsters to talk about it without giggling.”
In honor of April being Sexual Assault Awareness month, Women’s Empowerment and Violence Education, the Women’s Center and Western Men Against Violence are putting on a series of events to educate Western’s campus about abuse and sexual assault. These events will focus more on getting at the heart of these issues rather than simply arming women with pepper spray and fear.
For more information regarding the following events or about CASAS or WEAVE, contact Sarah Rankin at 650-7982.