EDITORIAL: Data shows movement may be working
Increase in sexual assault reports reflects more informed students
The overall number of reported rapes and sexual assaults at New Jersey’s four-year institutions of higher education has risen in recent years. The number of rapes reported increased a relatively hefty 24 percent from 2015 to 2016, according to NJ Advance Media. Additionally, cases of unwanted fondling and dating violence rose 46 percent and 13 percent respectively. At Rutgers—New Brunswick, though, such reports have actually slightly decreased.
The recent overall increase in reports at New Jersey’s colleges and universities does not necessarily indicate an increase in actual instances of sexual violence. Instead, they are likely an indication of a more informed student body. The rise in reports may be the result of college campuses’ positive reactions to schools’ efforts to educate their communities on the issue. These efforts are likely giving more students the courage to come out about their experiences and are informing them on how to go about handling the situation after the fact.
The exact reason for Rutgers’ apparent decrease in reports is unknown and may be a mere fluke, but it is also possible that students here are beginning to “get the picture.” Students have been very active in New Brunswick when it comes to advocating against sexual violence and informing the community about the problems women — and men — face every day with regard to the issue. The Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA) has led the charge in this battle on campus with multiple annual events like Denim Day and the Clothesline Project, which work to transform the community’s perception of the issue.
While the increase in reports shows us that students are becoming more informed on what to do when they are assaulted, the number of actual instances probably remains somewhat the same. But there is reason to believe that this increase in reports may also lead to an eventual, but real, societal decrease. It is clear that society’s definition and view of sexual violence is beginning to evolve, especially after the #MeToo movement. More and more people are becoming involved in and informed on the topic and are understanding the appropriate way for a person to conduct themselves in a perceived romantic engagement or otherwise. The clarification of what is included in the definition of sexual assault and violence will hopefully entail less cases of it. A clearer outline of the crime may give way to swifter justice, and in swift justice’s wake may come an effective deterrence.
But where the justice system falls short, society wields a powerful weapon. And with power must come caution. Movements that have surfaced very recently like #MeToo and Time’s Up have been able to gather immense support, and those that are ousted as perpetrators of sexual assault or harassment are, in a social context, massively shamed — and rightfully so, when they were truly in the wrong. The recent Aziz Ansari scandal showed us just how nuanced and grey these cases can be. So while encouraging women or victims of sexual violence in general to speak up about their experiences is our main goal, it must also be recognized that patently false accusations are equally as shameful as the deed itself. Without that just balance, there can be no true societal shift away from the issue.
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