OU’s rape culture awareness leads to change

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The Women’s and Gender Studies Department calls the campus to take action against sexual assault. The turquoise ribbons symbolize bringing sexual assault awareness. Photo by Cassie Fait

Ohio University no longer turns a blind eye to the rape culture on its campus. Notoriously ranked as a top party school, OU takes action to combat the rape culture that once flew under its small-town radar.

Increased dialogue about rape culture on OU’s campus caused discussion, awareness and improved education. Much of the dialogue occurred due to the alleged Homecoming sexual assault, Nick Southall’s slut-shaming tweet and FuckRapeCulture’s (FRC) formation.

The highest number of sexual assaults occur during the first six weeks of Ohio University’s school year, said Brenda Strickland, program coordinator for Ohio University’s Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP). Students’ newfound independence draws them to try new things, including alcohol consumption and hookups. However, those actions can end in negative consequences.

Bystander Intervention

One evening last year, Strickland intervened in a high-risk situation on the street corner at the top of Morton Hill.

“This middle aged guy with this really nice motorcycle stops in the intersection and asks, ‘Does anyone want a ride?’” Strickland said. “Then this very young girl, probably a freshman, said ‘I do!’ and she hops on. I stepped in and said, ‘What are you doing?! He could take you anywhere.’”

Bystander intervention could alter a potentially dangerous situation. Incidents like this occur not only in the dark hours of the night, but also during the day.

Such instances occur not only on Ohio University’s campus, but across the nation and beyond.

“There has been so little movement about this issue. Universities do not want to be known as the campus where girls get raped. In fact, every campus is that campus. The [Ohio University] party culture does not help. But that said, there are parties on every campus,” said Dr. Patricia Stokes, assistant professor of Women’s and Gender Studies.

Now various programs are combatting rape culture at Ohio University. Various programs assist not only rape survivors but also promote preventive measures. Bill Arnold, a graduate assistant for Bystander Intervention and Prevention Education at the Women’s Center, provides bystander intervention workshops for students and faculty.

Hollaback!, a worldwide organization aimed to end street harassment, also reached the Ohio University campus this semester. Teaming up with FRC, the duo provides sexual assault education and awareness.

Hollaback! spreads the word through handouts and posters on campus. On a Hollaback! “Street Harassment: A Bystander’s Guide” handout, they promote five steps to take when you see harassment occur: check in with the target, confront the harasser, distract the harasser, stand up to your friends and join the movement.

Strickland said bystanders are less likely to intervene if they do not know the person being harassed. Look to the Homecoming incident as an example. Although there was an altercation after the incident, no one stepped in during the alleged assault.

Social Media

“Why was it the students’ first reaction to film the sexual assault?” said Delfin Bautista, director of Ohio University’s LGBT Center.

The incident exploded on social media almost immediately, then appeared on national news outlets, including The Huffington Post, Business Insider and the New York Daily News.

“Students feel a greater connection to social media,” Bautista said. “Social media is causing people to become desensitized and disconnected.”

Social media contributes to problems such as slut-shaming and blaming the victim. Instead of supporting the rape victim, these users blame him or her for the rape. The malicious posts and victim blaming creates a hostile environment. The rape survivor is already coping with the rape, and victim blaming makes the process much more difficult.

Negative social media content continued for weeks after Homecoming. Students were misidentified as being involved in the rape. Not only did the actual victim face persecution, but the misidentified students were also harassed and verbally abused, proving our words have consequences.

“Students need to use social media etiquette before posting,” Bautista said. “Social media can be both useful and harmful. Look at Nick Southhall’s tweet, he’s in the public eye.”

Many OU students lashed out against now resigned Student Senate President Southall for his slut-shaming tweet in September, for which he later apologized. Student Senate later received education about slut-shaming and sexism, an event organized by Allie Erwin, co-founder of FRC.

Since the group’s formation, they have attracted the administration’s attention, held a clothing-optional parade and rally and put posters around the campus, among other endeavors.

“I think the difference today is that people are talking about the rape culture now through social media. There are more resources now than when I first started [as an undergraduate student], like the Survivor Advocacy Program,” Hall-Jones said.

Survivor Advocacy Program

The Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP) provides a variety of resources mainly involving confidential advocacy and providing education and resources.

“We never force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. We are here to support people. It’s okay to take time and make a decision,” Strickland said.

Few areas on campus provide a confidential environment. The grant-funded program offers confidential walk-in services and a hotline. Trained peer advocates give support and various options for survivors, offering a list of medical, therapeutic and legal services, but they never force advice upon anyone.

“Before anything bad has happened, send supportive signals,” Stokes said. “So if something ever does happen to one of [your] friends, they will know to take you seriously. Suspend judgment. Be supportive.”

SAP provides vital assistance for the survivor after the sexual assault. More programs, such as the Women’s Center’s peer counselors, counseling at Hudson Health Center and Campus Conversations, are emerging to encourage education and prevention.

Campus Conversations

Campus Conversations allows that kind of open discussion along with educational workshops. Hundreds of students and faculty participated in the two Campus Conversations in the fall. Topics ranged from social media use and bystander intervention to consent education.

During Campus Conversation, students expressed concern about  Hall-Jones’ silence on social media after the alleged Homecoming sexual assault. They looked to her as a guiding figure during the situation. Instead of joining the hate, social media could be a vital resource of support, information and discussion about rape culture.

“This was a big learning moment for me in social media use. I was so glad those students came forward,” Hall-Jones said.

Much of the feedback from students included questions surrounding consent.

During the fall semester, Hall-Jones sent an email to students regarding Ohio University’s policies and defining key areas of widespread concern, including defining consent.

In order for consent to occur, according to Ohio University’s policy, “consent must be informed, knowing and voluntary.”

Hall-Jones hopes to continue Campus Conversations in the spring semester, focusing on health education.

Jaclyn Friedman, author of “Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” will discuss bystander intervention and sexual assault on Feb. 4.

A variety of resources are available for sexual assault survivors and their family and friends. Education and workshops are also available for bystander intervention, rape culture, policies and consent. Visit the Women’s Center, Survivor Advocacy Program, LGBT Center, FRC and Hollaback! for more information or counseling.

Ohio University students, faculty and administration are taking a stance against the rape culture together. This is an issue that effects everyone on the campus.

“That’s a nice thing, I think, about the Ohio University community,” Hall-Jones said. “People come together and support each other.”

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  1. […] This week, Hollaback! was featured in Buzzfeed, The Ottawa Citizen (more than once!), Huffington Post, Halabol, and Speakeasy Magazine.  […]

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