Harvard University students on their way about campus in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 10, 2013. The Ivy League school was one of 55 colleges and universities the Obama administration publicly declared as under investigation for their handling of sexual assault complaints.
Gretchen Ertl/The New York Times/Redux

Rape isn’t a privilege, it’s an epidemic

Updated
By Zerlina Maxwell

Rape culture is real – on college campuses, in the military, and beyond – and Washington is finally taking notice.

In January, President Obama formed the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Violence led by Vice President Joe Biden. After three months of listening sessions with survivors and experts, the task force concluded that campus sexual assault prevention requires three things: education about consent, bystander intervention techniques training, and redevelopment of administrative reporting policies.

Currently, 61 American colleges are under investigation for violating Title IX, the federal law that requires administrations to take rape cases seriously. Survivors are no longer willing to remain quiet as their universities hire public relations firms to protect their prestigious reputations. 

And beyond the campus gates, the hashtag #YesAllWomen recently spread around the globe as survivors and allies alike spoke of their own, lived experiences with sexual harassment and violence.

As a woman who has survived rape, I can speak with some authority on what it’s like to be raped in a world that rallies around perpetrators and where justice is rare and fleeting. Where there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting on dusty shelves all over the United States. And where survivors often suffer tangible financial, emotional, and social harm, whether in college or in uniform.

So, it was only a matter of time until someone on the right decided to turn the issue of rape culture on its head, blaming the victims of sexual violence for the crimes perpetrated against them. Enter George Will, conservative columnist at the Washington Post, who this week went a step further, saying not only are women victims at fault, but that women actually benefit from their own victimhood.

Unfortunately for Will and other like-minded conservatives, the numbers don’t lie. One in five women are assaulted during their college years. Many survivors suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder which can be fatal to their collegiate success, as flashbacks and triggers cause their grades to suffer. Worse, college women who are assaulted are often forced to return to class with their rapists, many who are found guilty of rape in the inept administrative process, but not expelled.

In response to Will’s column, writer, activist, and survivor Wagatwe Wanjuki started the hashtag #survivorprivilege. The hashtag quickly picked up steam on Twitter, with users sharing their own experiences with sexual assault and violence.

Let’s be clear about one thing: There is nothing privileged about a survivor’s life after rape.

Thankfully, Washington powerhouse Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat who previously worked on legislation to improve the reporting process in the military, realizes that. McCaskill is expected to introduce legislation at the end of the month that will address the issue of campus sexual assault.

And as long as sexual assault victims have allies like McCaskill in Washington, and we continue raising our collective voices – using powerful tools like social media and refusing to stay silent – not only will the world be unable to deny the realities of rape culture, but the epidemic could actually, eventually be eradicated.

RAPE, Sexism and Sexual Assault

Rape isn't a privilege, it's an epidemic

Updated