Preparation versus paranoia

For many college students, especially new ones, massive parties are a way of life.  This makes sense given the sudden freedom from parents, especially if your parents were controlling or repressive.

If parties are a way of life, a depressing and extremely serious reality is that sexual assaults often take place at, or after, such parties. The fact that rape is such a common occurrence in society speaks volumes about how we’re failing half the population.

I will note that men are also victims of rape, though male victims are a statistical minority, so I will be focusing on assault that targets females.

There are things both men and women can do to combat rape. Recently, it has become more common to shift responsibility away from women protecting themselves to men not assaulting people. I think that this is a good strategy, but it has one notable flaw.

It is vitally important to teach men not to sexually assault women; however there is always a segment of the population who are sociopathic or have some sort of mental handicap which deprives them of empathy, sympathy and a sense of morality beyond what they want at that moment. This means, tragically,  that it will always be important to teach women how to protect themselves in addition to teaching men to be better human beings.

There is a fine line between being prepared and being paranoid, and this line may move depending on the circumstances of a given moment. It is important to not let fear restrict you as a person, and at the same time, one should always maintain situational awareness and be prepared.

There are some very basic actions women can do to increase their safety.

Female students should make a mental note of the locations of the security poles scattered around campus. This may not help you when attending off-campus parties, but when you’re walking around the PSU campus at night, it’s always wise to keep an eye out for these.

Take a self-defense course. Again, these shouldn’t be necessary, but until we as a culture improve, classes such as these can help. Beyond learning techniques to improve situational awareness and self-defense combat strategies, these classes can serve as a confidence booster. I was once told by a woman that even outside of self-defense, it is oddly reassuring knowing you can probably kick the ass of just about anybody in the room. Having a presence and such confidence will not only protect you physically, it will help in other aspects of your life.

In the event of an attack, whether sexual or not, call the Portland police instead of the campus police. I would like to emphasize that I am extremely glad for the presence of the campus police, and I am confident they are all upstanding individuals.

The main issue is that many university administrations across the country have had a despicable history of covering up or letting sexual assaults slide so as to not upset their safety statistics for the school. With all due respect to the brave people who are on the campus police, city police are generally better equipped to deal with serious assaults.

It should go without saying that if you see somebody in need of help, step in and help them. However, because people are still sexually assaulted while bystanders observe, I will say it: if you see somebody being attacked, HELP THEM. If you see somebody being accosted by an overly aggressive man, step in. As the old saying goes: all that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.

Intervening in the event of an attack is merely treating symptoms. It is also important for men to do their part to break a cultural mentality which devalues women and makes “scoring” more important for guys than being a decent human being and not raping somebody. No means no, and if a woman is not in a position to say no, do not assume that means yes. The only time to proceed sexually is when she specifically says yes.

Another unfortunate fact to consider is that a sizable portion of sexual assaults are committed by people the victim knows. This means that college parties, especially wild ones full of alcohol, are places where women and men should be aware of their surroundings.

The easiest and most basic rule is, follow your intuition. If a party feels unsafe or a place creeps you out, leave!

If you are at a party where you don’t know many people, having a buddy system is a good idea. Designate a friend, male or female, whom you keep an eye on, and who keeps an eye on you, to make sure you are both safe.

Be aware of drinks as well. Women, don’t accept drinks from people you don’t know, or at least watch them pour it, and don’t leave your drink unattended. Some people I know suggest that women hold their cups by the rim, with their fingers over the top, as opposed to the base of the cup. This makes it much more difficult for an assailant to discreetly drop roofies or other drugs into the drink. Some of my female friends feel that this is crossing the line from prepared to paranoid, but again, go with your intuition and do what feels safe.

Men, you are also responsible for preventing people from drugging drinks. Make it clear to all of your friends that any kind of assault is completely unacceptable. That goes beyond roofies. Taking advantage of a woman who is drunk, who doesn’t consent, or is incapable of consenting, is not acceptable. Make sure you and your friends not only know this is unacceptable but keep an eye out for other men who seem to be doing this, and be ready to intervene and put a stop to it. As I said earlier, though, dealing with the problem in the moment is dealing with the symptoms.

People very dear to me have been victims of rape, and I’d like to see all rapists keel-hauled. Alas, tying somebody up, throwing them off the front of a ship so the ship runs them over, and in the process cheese-grates them on the barnacles along the hull counts as cruel and unusual punishment. Lawyers tell me that is “unconstitutional.”

I used to work at the Special Collections and Archives Research Center at Oregon State University. I looked through a lot of old university and student publications during my time there, and I can honestly say we’ve come a long way dealing with the problem of sexual assaults against women. However, we’ve still got a very long way to go.

As  I mentioned earlier, there will always be a problem, because certain types of mental illness exist. However, the people who are physically incapable of understanding right from wrong are a small minority. Most  sexual assault is perpetrated by men who ought to know better. Men and women must help break down the culture that condones or tolerates such barbarism.