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The Problem of Sexual Violence Essay

Updated August 9, 2022

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The Problem of Sexual Violence Essay essay

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Through storytelling and collective action, survivor activists have brought the issue of campus sexual assault to the nation’s attention through the use of social media. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), sexual violence is more prevalent in and around college campuses, compared to any other crime, and women ages 18-24 are three times more likely to be victims of sexual violence. Additionally, nearly 20% – 25% of college women will be victims of forced sex during their college experience, and the victimization rate of college women was 27.7 rapes per 1,000 female students (Smith, Basile, & Gilbert, 2017). Unlike other criminal offenses, Title IX of federal law requires that “educational entities undertake their own investigations of sexual assault, separate from criminal court proceedings” (Blanchard, 2018).

Although this becomes a problem when it is left up to the colleges, as many do not accurately or at all disclose information. We are currently witnessing this very thing in CU’s delayed disclosure of sexual assaults on our own campus and lack of informing of women of potentially dangerous situations. According to a study done by the American Association of University Women, according to the annual crime statistics of college campuses in 2014, nearly 91% of colleges indicated zero incidences of rape (American Association of Women, 2015). This is incredibly unlikely, as more survivors are coming forward about their experiences, and the statistical reports say otherwise. It seems that this is not only an individual level issue but an institutional one that is pervasive nationally amongst universities.

Whether the lack of truthful reporting is to preserve excellent media representation of the college or to prevent discouraging Freshman from applying to the school, there’s still the necessity to provide accurate statistics and to inform the study body of violence. We must start to ask ourselves when did college men get the idea that they are entitled to have sex with women without consent, especially if it requires coercion or the use of substances? Or, when did college women become just objects on campus to be used for male sexual gratification? This is what we call a culture: a tangled web of activity, speech, attitudes, and beliefs that have the power to contribute to the normalization of the objectification of women, pulling in individuals across age, ethnicity, and campus without most even realizing it.

As illustrated in Miss Representation, research by Awasthi (2017), identifies how media images of women are one of the primary culprits in teaching girls to self-objectify. Through a meta-analytic approach, Awasthi found that images from television, advertisements, video games, films, magazines, and social media disproportionately use the female body to sell their products, and the camera frame often focuses solely on female body parts rather than the whole picture. As stated previously, exposure to sexually objectifying media has been linked to self- objectification, body shame, anxiety over appearance, and an acceptance of the normative belief that women are sexual objects. A dire consequence of dehumanization of women through objectification is that it becomes a prelude to violence. Sexual violence is a consequence of a dehumanized perception of the female body that aggressors acquire through their exposure and interpretation of objectified body images.

Female bodies are scrutinized, objectified, and evaluated to greater degrees than male bodies, which directly leads to the objectification of women. A focus on appearance rather than on personality or achievement diminishes the degree of human nature attributed to females. According to the results of Awasthi’s meta analysis, objectified women are subject to increased sexual harassment, sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention, especially following exposure to objectifying media. Through neurological research on brain mechanisms, Awasthi found that the attribution of animalistic lack of agency and reduced pain attribution results in the higher likelihood of violence toward objectified targets. This is perpetuated by sexualized media content and pornography, instilling the idea the women are objects to be used and abused by their male counterparts. Moreover, heavy drinking increases hostile and aggressive views toward women, which is associated positively with sexual objectification and sexual violence perpetrated by men (Awasthi, 2017). Saying boys will be boys, will never be an acceptable excuse for the ruthlessness of men, who embody the hegemonic masculinity that perpetuates the scary reality that is campus sexual violence.

From my experiences freshman year that resulted in my own experience sexual assault, I can speak to the dangers of the collegiate party culture that’s adopted by fraternities and accentuated by excessive alcohol and drug consumption. As female students, we are often reminded to “never put your drink down and never leave your drink unattended”, but that becomes frighteningly realistic in the party culture. Most recently on October 18, police were notified that at least five female CU students were being treated at Boulder Community Health after drinking bagged wine that was unknowingly and heavily laced with Xanax during a Frat party on the University Hill (Hendee, 2018). Fraternity men drink significantly more often and with greater intensity, which has been linked to higher rates of sexual assault (Blanchard, 2018).

A study done by United Educators in 2015, examined statistics from 305 claims of sexual assault from 104 college campuses in the United States: found that 10% of perpetrators were members of a Greek letter fraternity and 24% of repeat offenders were members of a fraternity (United Educators, 2015). This demonstrates the rampant issue of fraternities as they breed party culture, excessive drinking, and objectification of women. In addition, there’s an increasingly strong relationship between collegiate athletics and campus sexual misconduct. The same study done by United Educators in 2015, found that nearly a third of sexual assaults are reported to be committed by student-athletes. In the past couple years, several collegiate institutions have been investigated by the ORC for Title XI infringements that were found to fail to report, act on, or paid out allegations of sexual assault by student athletes. College sports play a role in creating a culture among the student body that is encouraging and permissive of excessive substance use, particularly alcohol, excessive partying, and sexual assault.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation found that there’s a 28% increase in reported rape among 17-24 year old victims on college football game days, including a 41% increase during home games (Murnen, Sarah K. and Marla H. Kohlman, 2007). These statistics are just another reason why women don’t feel comfortable being out alone in public after sundown, why we must stay on the phone when getting into our cars at night, why so many carry tasers or pepper spray while walking to class, and why so many women just don’t feel safe anymore on and around campus. We are brought to college to learn and enjoy these special years of our lives, but it also comes at a potential cost that isn’t just monetary. Sadly, the world is a much darker place for females, and in my opinion we live in a society where it is impossible to put our guard down in fear of dire consequences from men. Above all, I ask my fellow woman to educate yourself and be careful, because I don’t ever wish for you to experience what I and so many others have.

The objectification of women is a very intriguing and personal topic for myself, notably one that has deeply affected my life and psycho-sexual wellbeing. I have never been a girl who has been able to identify with anyone in the media. As a child, I was a strong and pretty stereotypical tomboy, and for most of my early childhood, I was very overweight. By the end of fifth grade, the bullying I experienced due to my weight, contributed to the development of my anorexia nervosa that followed me throughout middle school. In a mere couple of months I had gone from 140 pounds to nearly 80. I was miserable and stunting my growth, but was “blessed” with comments of beauty and jealousy of my weight loss, until the day I became too skinny. I was being objectified not only by my peers, but the adults I had respected and looked up upon. As the objectification theory predicts, the cultural images and social comments that surround us become internalized and produce psychological effects that are quite harmful. To this day, I have such an antagonistic relationship with my body, as instead of being my best friend, I am my worst enemy.

I hate looking in the mirror or seeing photos of myself, and sometimes I choose to shower in the dark, just so I don’t have to see my body. I hate how the media represents women and continually puts us down. I realize I’ll never be that size two, big breasted woman the media depicts men fawning over, and trust me I don’t want to, but that cognitive burden and skewed perception of what a woman should be, has been internalized in my mind and continues to tell me otherwise. I have made strides here in college, now that I have been exposed to better role models and have made friends with people who share these experiences and beliefs. I am thankful for those who are supporting me and who are continuing to fight with me against the patriarchy and oppression of women. In the classrooms, we are subjected to being “manterrupted and mansplained”. At parties, we are incessantly objectified for our appearance, dress, and body movements. This is the world we live in: a world established by the patriarchy, one in which men feel entitled to exploit and control women in any way possible. This is a main component behind the objectification theory as it helps explain college sexual assault and the culture of hegemonic masculinity.

The research I have done for this paper, has overwhelmingly reaffirmed my stance on the objectification of women. During my time spent in Denmark this past summer, I was able to participate in their SlutWalk and discuss with Danish women on their experiences, which has provided me with a more worldly representation of these issues. From what I gathered, this is a universal problem that all women are experiencing, but is more pronounced here in the United States. My conversations with women in Denmark have exhibited a trend in decreased fear of sexual assault, decrease in direct objectifying actions from men, but still the same levels of psychological burden that is contributed by the sexualization and objectification of women in the media. The objectification of women contributes to the pervasive issue of self-objectification, the continuation of misogynistic and patriarchal status quo, and violence against women. Additionally, the experiences that accumulate with objectification results in mental health risks that disproportionately affect women. Gender inequality, sexual objectification and sexist attitudes all need to be relics of the past. A person’s worth, to any extent or dimension, should not be determined by their physical being.

I wanted to include some research in the future steps that can occur to combat the objectification of women, demonstrated by the research done by Orchowski in 2018. With the increasing focus on the issue of the objectification of women and sexual assault on college campuses, the most effective approach is in comprehensive and interconnected prevention programs. It is necessary to move towards having a common goal of making the world, and particularly college campuses, safer for all. Risk reduction, resistance education, and empowerment-based self-defense approaches show good efficacy in reducing rates of victimization, and show no evidence of promoting victim blame among participants or survivors (Orchowski, 2018). There is clearly no silver bullet or magic potion for sexual assault prevention, but rather the necessity to implement multiple, intersecting, and integrated approaches in order to have a significant and sustained impact on the rates of violence against women.

As a collective, we can correct misconceptions regarding sexual behavior, reinvent social norms regarding gender and sexuality, promote community support for taking action to address violence, and raise awareness amongst the student body. We can start teaching our sons consent and respect for women; and teach our daughters to stand up for themselves and be who they want to be, not what the media or others dictate. Unfortunately, “our” President weaponizes victimization, saying how it is a scary time for affluent white men in America like himself. And maybe this is true, but for quite different reasons than his feeble mind grasps. No matter what a woman wears, or how much she drinks, or what other people tell you is acceptable behavior, it is never OK to disrespect, objectify, denigrate or take advantage of any person. So for those that have trouble grasping this, then yes it is a scary time for you, because we as women are tired of your abuses of power, objectifying gazes, and the fear you have instilled for us.

That being said, I didn’t want to end this paper in doom and gloom, because despite all the horrible things regarding this topic that we see pop up in the news, I do believe that we as a collective are making strides in improving the situation. In the media, more of the invisible women, in particular those of older age, average or increased weight, members of the LGBTI community, and African American and Hispanic ethnicities, are being included in film, television, social media, and magazines. More sexual assault survivors are coming forth and sharing their stories, and are provided with the support and love they deserve. The more this issue becomes “sensationalized” per se, the better chances women have towards change, recovery and prevention.

Likewise, more men are becoming supporters of feminist movements and attempting to reject traditional gender norms. We can start utilizing resources provided by organizations and initiatives that promote positive images of women and girls, and promoting positive role models and media representations. Social media can also be a mechanism for change, and we can start using media to bring awareness about sexual objectification of women and girls in the media. We have come so far from where these feminist movements started, but also have quite a long ways to go in ending sexual assault and the mass objectification of women.

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