Read the comment section following any article about campus sexual assault that reinforces the Department of Justice statistic that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted before graduation and several alternative perspectives consistently appear. One is that the stats are wrong (for our response to this, see What Is the Acceptable Rate of Sexual Assault on Campus?). Another is that women are falsely accusing men of assault.
These comments are probably fueled by media reports of what some consider men being persecuted following consensual sex. Consider the recent article poorly reported in Rolling Stone about rape at the University of Virginia; the high-profile story of the man who denies sexually assaulting Emma Sulkowicz, who carried a mattress around Columbia University in protest; and the recent trial of prep school student Owen Labrie who claims the 15 year-old he was accused of targeting consented to intercourse, resulting in a mix of misdemeanor and felony convictions and lifelong sex offender status.
The messy aftermath of sexual assault is often another he said/she said battle in the Gender War. No parent wants to see their child caught up in this, and lines are drawn that divide the parents of girls and the parents of boys. Lines are drawn that divide men and women.
It’s possible to erase the line and work together to address concerns from both sides. By joining the effort to stop campus sexual assault, men can better protect themselves from the aftermath of a complaint. Research and media coverage makes it clear that some of the campus sexual assault epidemic is fueled by ignorance and misunderstanding on the part of men and women.
Research out of the University of North Dakota published in Violence and Gender indicates 1 in 3 men would engage in forcible sex if they thought there would be no repercussions, while in contradiction, most of these male students said they would not commit rape.
Some have interpreted this to mean there’s confusion about what constitutes rape, indicating the need for more education. Some of this is likely the result of the consumption of pornography and certain video games, and their message that women want sex even when they say no. Also, many young women may not be clear about how to say no.
Prevention training is critical to addressing both concerns. Parents of both boys and girls can look for effective prevention programs at the colleges and universities they apply to, such as:
- Bystander intervention training programs
- Education about healthy relationships
- Affirmative consent training
- Active student chapters working to stop campus sexual assault, like It’s On Us, One in Four, Girl Code Movement, and End Rape On Campus
- Mandatory ongoing training
- Training delivered in several ways, including videos, online, and in person
As colleges and universities are being required to address campus sexual assault, reforms are being created to address what happens after a complaint is filed. There is a strong call to include due process for the accused, and we are waiting to see how those concerns will be addressed.
Parents concerned about their sons can take some comfort in the research. The National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women’s False Reports: Moving Beyond the Issue to Successfully Investigate and Prosecute Non-Stranger Sexual Assault places false reports of sexual assault at 2 – 8% of complaints filed, and discusses numerous research studies on the topic that lead to that conclusion.
At Keep Her Safe, parents we work with believe that when a daughter or son has to file a sexual assault complaint with a Title IX Coordinator, it’s a big failure on the part of the school. No doubt, many parents will think the same if a son is falsely accused of sexual assault. Working against each other solves neither concern. Let’s work together to make campuses safer for everyone.