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Sexual Assault is Gender Blind

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The fact is that 2012 was a horrible year in terms of sexual assaults on college campuses.

In June 2012, Trey Malone, a junior at Amherst College and a distinguished student both academically and athletically, took his own life after he was unable to deal with the immense trauma and intense emotions he suffered after being the victim of rape by a co-ed. After his suicide, it was discovered that Malone’s experience was not an aberration. On the contrary, he was one of a number of students on the prestigious, leafy, upscale, distinguished liberal arts institution who had been the victim of such a horrific sexual violation. His death made national headlines, caused the Amherst college community to erupt, (the campus president, Carolyn Martin, aggressively denounced the perpetrators of such crimes and led the effort in instituting policies and programs to combat such behavior) sparked widespread discussion on the campus and, once again,  brought the issue of rape and sexual assault to the forefront of national debate.

Truth be told, Amherst College is far from the only institution of higher learning that has been plagued by rapes and sexual assaults. The sad fact is that this sexual assault is a sordid, sickening demonstrably troubling epidemic that is happening on college campuses from coast to coast. In fact, late last summer, Tyler Kingkade, a reporter at The Huffington Post,wrote an article about the crisis that was taking place at the University of Montana at the time. By fall 2012, the problem had become so severe that the campus had earned the title (no doubt, certainly a chilling feeling for the school’s administrators, faculty and many students) the “rape capital” of America. In response to such troubling news, the university implemented a policy that required all students to watch an online video tutorial about rape prevention and required that students pass the test with a perfect score.

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Kingkade provided other disturbing examples:

  • Penn State University Police are investigating a reported assault in a residence hall on the university park campus.
  • A 22-year-old student at the University of North Florida was assaulted in a locker room at the Student Wellness Complex.
  • At the University of Georgia four students had been raped within a 17-day span.
  • A Southern Methodist University Student was attacked from behind, forced into the bushes and was sexually assaulted.
  • Immediately after the fall 2012 semester began, Harvard University heightened security after two rapes had been reported near the Cambridge campus.

What is even more alarming is the fact that an investigation that was conducted by the National Public Radio Center for Public Integrity found that only 10 to 25 of individuals (men) found responsible for such assaults were ever expelled. Moreover, 20 percent of women will be the victims of sexual assault.

In response to such troubling news, Congress has passed several acts of legislation to combat such vile injustices. Among them are the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination (SAVE) Act and the Violence Against Women (VAWA) Act. These were/are excellent steps. Still more must be done.

As Trey Malone’s experience indicated, sexual assault is not the sole domain of women or confined exclusively to women. A number of men have also been victimized and violated. The fact is that men are often less likely to report such assaults due to the fact that they are often under the impression that no one will believe them, they will be perceived as weak, possibly homosexual or bisexual, or supposedly “abnormal and deviant” in one manner or another.

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 The grim facts are that sexual assault is a vice that does not discriminate. It is a social evil that is gender blind. It is a rapacious act of degradation, denigration, demoralization and terror that has to be attacked with the force of a hurricane. Its victims must be supported and comforted with all resources available and its perpetrators must be punished to the full extent of the law.

Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history and African-American studies at East Tennessee State University.

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