Facts over fiction

Debunking assault myths

Joseph Schulz, Managing editor

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Administrators and campus officials have been using the “Red Zone” initiative to debunk the many myths surrounding sexual assault and intimate partner violence.

The initiative lasts the first six weeks of the semester, coinciding with the period when campus sexual assaults are highest, and hosts a variety of events on campus geared toward educating students about how to have healthy sexual relationships.

Campus Victim Advocate Ciara Hill said stereotypical gender roles play a big part in propping up myths surrounding sexual assault and rape culture.

“Gender stereotypes are saying, ‘men should be in power, and they should always be in control,’” Hill said. “We see that with sexual assaults and intimate partner violence, it’s 100% about power and control.”

Sexual and Interpersonal Violence Coordinator Gabrielle Schwartz said media and pop culture negatively promote gender stereotypes.

“We definitely have media [and] music videos that say, ‘just keep trying for your sexual conquest,’” Schwartz said. “They make it seem like violence against anybody, but specifically violence against women is okay, and the media then further perpetuates the idea of rape culture.”

In order to change rape culture and dissolve steryotypic genderroles, Hill said society needs to confront the myths surrounding sexual assault and interpersonalviolence.

One of the myths most impacted by gender stereotypes is the idea that men don’t get sexually assaulted.

by gender stereotypes is that men don’t get sexually assaulted. In fact, one in 16 men are sexually assaulted in their lifetime, according to Peer Wellness Educator Maysee Lao.

“Anyone can be a victim of sexual assault,” Lao said. “[About] 68% of sexual assault crimes are unreported, and that includes sexual assault cases involving men as the victim.”

One of the most damaging myths about sexual assault is that someone can consent to sexual activities while intoxicated.

“The legal definition of consent says that you cannot consent if you are incapacitated, meaning intoxicated,” Schwartz said.

Hill added many college students don’t know their alcohol tolerance and aren’t properly educated about consent.

“If you do meet this person out at a party or a bar, if they’re really truly interested in you, they will get your number and wait until the next day to communicate with you,” Hill said.

Schwartz suggests students keep alcohol and sex separate.

“You don’t need to mix the two, especially with people that you don’t know very well,” Schwartz said.

Students always need to make sure their partners are consenting to sexual activities, Lao added.

“Perpetrators often use alcohol as a method to take advantage of others,” Lao said. “A victim is never to blame, even if alcohol is involved.”

Another myth surrounding sexual assault and interpersonal violence is the idea that if a relationship isn’t physically abusive, then it’s devoid of abuse.

Scars left from emotional and psychological abuse can be just as deep as those left from a physically abusive relationship, Hill added.

“A lot of the students that I see that are victims of intimate partner violence and domestic abuse are struggling a lot with being able to even concentrate in class, [and] being able to open up to healthy relationships after that unhealthy relationship,” Hill said.

Lao encouraged students to get out of a relationship if they feel forced to do anything they don’t want to do, especially if the partner is making them feel unsafe and not asking for consent.

Schwartz said friends can often see that a relationship is unhealthy before a victim does, adding that her office is always open to students who need guidance navigating an unhealthy relationship.

Best practices for students engaging in sex include using contraceptives and protection, such as condoms, to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, as well as disclosing disease and infection status with partners, Lao said.

She added it’s important for students to know their partners and understand where to find emergency contraception on campus, if needed.

People must start believing victims, Hill said, if we are to change rape culture and fully debunk the myths surrounding sexual assault and intimate partner violences.

“We need to start by believing [victims] and saying, ‘I don’t know everything that happened, but I’m here for you,’” Hill said. “That alone goes a long way with someone who has been through a traumatic event.