Rape and Sexual Assaults on College Campuses Brittany Dutton-LeydaCriminology / SOC 427 Dr

Rape and Sexual Assaults on College Campuses
Brittany Dutton-LeydaCriminology / SOC 427
Dr. G. Gadsden
April 25, 2018
There has been a recent epidemic of sexual violence on the nations’ college campuses. The statistical findings may not be completely accurate because of society’s varying definitions of rape and sexual assault. Confusion with these definitions makes it difficult for some to identify or label their sexual experiences accordingly. Appropriate labeling is another reason there is a discrepancy in the facts about sexual assaults on college campuses. Rape culture in fraternities and the ritualistic behavior that takes place in college social groups, along with individual desire to fit into these social constructs, play a major role in campus sexual assaults. Meanwhile, the media and the way sexual assault is reported also take part in society’s views on these university sexual assaults. While educating students and having them participate in social research and recognition of college sexual assaults can help provide a way for students to empower one another and prevent sexual violence on campuses.
Conflicting data from surveys conducted by the American Association of Universities’ including the Campus Sexual Assault Study and the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, along with data collected from the National Crime Victimization Survey on Rape and Sexual Assault Victimization among College-Age Females provide inconsistent numbers on how many sexual assaults actually take place on university grounds (Beaver, 2017). The greatest inconsistency found in these surveys and research are actual reports of incidence (Beaver, 2017, pg. 264). The ability of individuals to define their sexual experiences, and therefore appropriately report incidences of sexual assault differ partially because of social definitions of sexual assault, fear of reporting, and confusion of what constitutes sexual assault.
This leads us to the issues concerning definitions and labeling of sexual assault and rape. “Despite the high prevalence of rape, especially on college campuses, research suggests that rape is underreported and that many women do not label their experience as rape even when it meets the definition of rape…nearly half or more, of rape victims don’t label their experience as rape” (LeMaire, 2016, p. 333). There are various factors associated with the issues of labeling sexual assault.
Attitudes of “benevolent sexism,” which is a tolerance for sexual harassment, and rape myth acceptance, significantly played a role in the labeling of previous sexual assault by victims” (LeMaire, 2016, p. 332). In a study conducted of 276 female college students it was reported that “those with more benevolent sexist attitudes, greater rape myth acceptance, and more tolerant attitudes of sexual harassment were less likely to label their past sexual assault experience as rape” (LeMaire, 2016, p. 332). These varying attitudes contributed to how women labeled or didn’t appropriately label their sexual experiences.

Benevolent sexism “reinforces traditional gender roles where men are dominant and women are subservient. Researcher shows that individuals who are benevolently sexist in their beliefs have a tendency to minimize other’s sexual victimization and blame victims of rape because the female victims broke traditional gender roles” (LeMaire, 2016, p. 341). Which also affects women being able to appropriately label their own experiences as rape because “women are less likely to label their own sexual assault experiences if they endorse benevolent sexism,” (LeMaire, 2016, p. 341). This further complicates accurate incidence reporting.
Another issue associated with labeling is rape myth acceptance. “Rape myth acceptance is an attitude that denies the rape of others. Likewise, the endorsement of rape myths also predicts the denial and labeling of one’s own experience as rape” (LeMaire, 2016, p. 341). Like rape myth, a tolerance for sexual harassment can impact labeling as well.
“This study also found that tolerance of sexual harassment marginally significantly predicted labeling… women who have a higher tolerance for sexual harassment also extend at least some of the tolerance to their own experiences of sexual assault” (LeMaire, 2016, p. 342). In better understanding the attitudes associated with labeling of sexual assault, we are able to get a more accurate perspective of sexual assault on college campuses.
The social psychological processes of why individuals have these attitudes toward rape culture, helps to explain the mindset behind the behavior. Social learning tells us that individuals learn “sexually aggressive behavior from their peers” including other social factors such as “sex and inequality, and social power” (Boyle, 2015, p. 386). Murnen and Kohlman (2007) found that “fraternity men endorse higher levels of rape myth acceptance and are more likely to exhibit hypermasculinity, traditional gender role beliefs, and rape supportive beliefs” (Boyle, 2015, p. 388). These negative societal attitudes of male fraternity members fuel the rape culture that we are seeing on campuses nationwide.

Ethnographic studies show that certain fraternities perpetuate a rape culture that is conducive of “expectations for heavy drinking and hooking up, sexual competition among brothers, and collective disrespect of women” (Boyle, 2015, p. 386). The identity and affect control theory explain in part, why certain types of men, might participate in fraternities that exploit sexual aggression and rape culture. Because of the economic and social power held by fraternities and their members, there is a level of control and influence for the social norms on campus to reinforce gender inequality, and sexual aggression (Boyle, 2015, p. 394). This solidifies the rape culture experienced on many university campuses.
In The Social Geometries of Rape Michalski discusses fraternity rape as a ritual for its members. Rape become socially accepted within the subculture and “some U.S. fraternities endorse various forms of ‘gang rape’ as a type of initiation rituals, and as a form of ‘male bonding,’ that sometimes even sororities may be complicit, assigning the role of ‘stripper’ or ‘ho’ to new pledges” (Michalski, 2015, p. 767). Meanwhile the victims of these types of ritualistic types of rapes generally “belong to the same ethnic group, local community, or university as their attackers – or all of these combined, as in many cases of fraternity or ‘party rapes.’ These victims also occupy an inferior status and, as such, the subculture in question either condones their ‘objectification’ or otherwise accepts that certain forced sexual practices should be endured as common rituals endemic to the society in question” (Michalski, 2015, p. 769). This implies that even the victims believe or accept the rape culture present in society on college campuses.
The media and how it reports sexual assault influences society’s view on issues of sexual assault on college campuses. In a research study conducted to look at how the media reports sexual assault, it was found that most newspapers do not report women’s self defense behavior when reporting sexual assault attacks and portray the women as victims that play into gender roles of “weak” and “inferior.” Women and society are taught that “to survive a rape they must be passive; because men are inevitably stronger than women, fighting back would be risking getting killed. Notably, of the 922 articles we analyzed reinforce this gender ideology, painting a picture that rarely diverges from essentialist notions of masculine strength and feminine vulnerability” (Hollander, 2014, p. 359). There is a distortion of what the media chooses to highlight instead of the reality that women can and do successfully fight back in many cases of sexual assault which leads society to assume that all women are victims, helpless, and have no voice.
Although often unreported and unnoted by the media and news, research shows that “in all types of crimes, including sexual assaults, victim resistance is nearly always the most effective course of action” (Hollander, 2014, p. 344). Despite the scientific knowledge of this information, the media focuses on the victimization and focus on gender roles in sexual assault rather than providing society with the knowledge and empowerment for women to break the cycle of sexual assault by resisting and advocating for themselves. Instead the news and media serve as methods of social control to disempower women, blame victims, and create stereotypes of gender beliefs.
In a study conducted on a college campus including sociology and social work undergraduate student’s experiences on campus sexual assault and misconduct. “The research revealed that individual behaviors, institutional organization, and interactions on campus combine to form a high-risk setting for young women” (Donley, 2018, p. 49). Through participating in the research study provided a learning experience about the topic and the importance of conducting research studies on social issues.
One student made the connection between the project and how it “helped their learning experience because it involved ‘relevant, current examples of sociological research and methods,’ while another student mentioned how much they learned about Title IX, sexual assault, and misconduct on university campuses” (Donley, 2018, p. 54). By incorporating college students in research studies about campus sexual assault, they become more educated on the topic and are able to recognize the issue and better address it. This helps contribute to the students’ “learning experiences, ability to understand the research process, and to connect research to real life” (Donley, 2018, p. 54). Because of its social relevance, the study engaged students, helping them learn more about their studies of social work and sociology, meanwhile addressing a pressing “real-world social problems.”
References:
Beaver, W. R. (2017). Campus sexual assault: What we know and what we don’t. Independent Review, 22(2), 257-268. “Gadsden Approved.”
Boyle, K. M. (2015). Social Psychological Processes that Facilitate Sexual Assault within the Fraternity Party Subculture. Sociology Compass, 9(5), 386-399. doi:10.1111/soc4.12261
Donley, S., ; Paige, A. (2018). Sociology and Social Work Undergraduates’ Experiences Participating in a Research Project on Campus Sexual Assault and Misconduct. Journal of Applied Social Sciences (19367244), 12(1), 46-58. doi:10.1177/1936724418758142
Hollander, J. A., & Rodgers, K. (2014). Constructing Victims: The Erasure of Women’s Resistance to Sexual Assault. Sociological Forum, 29(2), 342-364. doi:10.1111/socf.12087
LeMaire, K. L., Oswald, D. L., ; Russell, B. L. (2016). Labeling sexual victimization experiences: The role of sexism, rape myth acceptance, and tolerance for sexual harassment. Violence and Victims, 31(2), 332-346. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.VV-D-13-00148
Michalski, J. H. (2015). The Social Geometries of Rape. Comparative Sociology, 14(6), 751-789. doi:10.1163/15691330-12341370