Debunk problematic stereotypes of sexual assault on campus
On behalf of the School of Social Work’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children, I am writing in response to the Targum article from Sept. 29th, “Rutgers urges students to take sexual assault survey.” Although I commend the Targum for covering this issue and making students aware of the iSPEAK project, I am deeply concerned by the cover image used for this article. Echoing the point that Kaila Boulware made in her Oct. 2 letter to the editor entitled, “Photo representations send strong messages about sexual assault,” the vast majority (somewhere between 85 and 92 percent) of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone familiar to the victim. However, the image accompanying the Targum article suggests otherwise.
This representation, implying that sexual assault is committed by hooded stalkers, perpetuates one of the largest misconceptions about sexual assault: the “stranger rape” myth. The “stranger rape” myth is particularly damaging among the Targum’s readership because college women are at greater risk of sexual assault than women in the general population or in a comparable age group. Thus, it is of the utmost importance we do not continue to distribute imagery or messages that may misinform people about the nature of college sexual assault.
In order to actually inform people of the reality of sexual assault and fight rates on college campuses, it is vital we start within our Rutgers-New Brunswick community. We can all make an important contribution by participating in the iSPEAK project, piloted by the Center on Violence Against Women and Children. A major component of this project involves a Campus Climate Survey commissioned by the White House. The broad intentions of this project are to use the knowledge gained to better understand how sexual assault is perceived among college students, determine ways to strengthen current prevention and intervention efforts on college campuses and to demystify stereotypes. So please join me when iSPEAK goes live from Oct. 27 through Nov. 9. Be sure to take the brief survey and share why you speak by using “#iSPEAK” on social media. Every voice makes a difference, so let’s work together to end campus sexual violence.
John Schafhauser is a research associate at the Center on Violence Against Women and Children at the Rutgers University School of Social Work.