This week, the University of Richmond gave me the wonderful opportunity to contribute my thoughts on the massive college sexual assault issue and California’s new affirmative consent law in an op-ed titled, “Let’s have the talk–yes, that talk”, for their Collegian newspaper. Thanks, UR!
In their 1990 hit song, “Let’s Talk About Sex,” classic rap group Salt-N-Pepa implore hip hop fans and others to openly discuss a topic that many people go to great lengths to avoid. And though we live in a country in which the presence of sex is virtually unavoidable, it appears that only now, in 2014, we are finally ready to have “the talk.” Unfortunately, as is the case with many important conversations, our nation’s sex talk comes on the heels of tragedy.
UltraViolet, an advocacy group for women’s rights, states that as of Oct. 20 there are 74 U.S. colleges and universities “under investigation for mishandling or failing to report cases of sexual assault based on media reports and information from the Department of Education…” The tragedy here is three-fold: 1) the occurrence of the sexual assaults, 2) the unreported and allegedly mishandled sexual assault cases, and 3) the rape culture that is fostered on campuses because of unreported and allegedly mishandled sexual assault cases.
In response to these events, many of the schools that are under investigation are revising, or perhaps devising, their sexual misconduct policies to reflect better aid for sexual assault victims, stricter penalization for sexual assault aggressors and an improved system of communication overall. And while college and university administrators are busily drafting and redrafting policies, the current White House administration has drafted universities and media, sports and grassroots organizations as part of its newly-minted “It’s On Us” campaign. According to The White House Blog, the campaign “seeks to reframe the conversation surrounding sexual assault [on college and university campuses] in a way that inspires everyone to see it as their responsibility to do something, big or small, to prevent it.”
Given the longstanding presence of sexual assault on some college and university campuses, it can be argued that a new take on this “conversation” is long overdue. Furthermore, the question can be raised as to whether past conversations surrounding sexual assault qualified as “conversations” at all. Nevertheless, we are talking about it now. And thanks to California, we are also talking about the way we talk about it…