Penn State Student Takes a Stand Against Sexual Assault
A Penn State film professor asked his students to think about something that really pissed them off. Penn State junior Stephanie Wain initially intended to focus on how women are depicted as sexual objects in the media, but this assignment evolved into the creation of a documentary called “Unreported,” which informs our school’s majorly oblivious population of the frequency with which sexually violent crimes occur in State College, and serves as a call to action about what we should be doing to stop them.
“I believe we have a responsibility to pave the road for awareness of sexual assault,” Wain begins. “We teach women not to be by themselves or go outside alone, and we have all these precautions for women, but why is it that we don’t tell men not to rape? Where is that education?”
Her documentary begins by stating that victims of sexual assault are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.
She proceeds with more staggering statistics:
- 1 in 4 women will be the victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate from college
- 80% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim-survivor knows
- 48.8% of college women who are victims of rape do not consider their assault to be rape
- Only 16% of rapes are ever reported to the police
“These kind of statistics are applicable in campuses across the country,” Wain explained. “I’m not just talking about Penn State, this is every campus across the United States.”
So based on this data, a quarter of the women you know have been, or will be, victims of attempted rape before they are handed their college degree. Take a look around your next lecture and think about that– the fact that statistically, 25% of the females in that classroom have experienced or will experience this kind of physically and emotionally shattering experience.
When we’re accepted to Penn State, we’re forced to complete a mandatory course called PSU Aware. You probably remember this, if vaguely– it was the summer before your freshman year and you got an email saying you needed to complete courses about alcohol and sexual assault before you could step foot on campus. You anxiously clicked through it without reading the questions because your eyes were glued to the seventh consecutive episode of Law and Order SVU you’d watched that day. It’s pretty likely that you couldn’t recall a single question from that pseudo-course if you tried.
That’s where Wain’s documentary’s call to action comes in. She believes that a course on sexual assault awareness, or even diversity awareness, should be a mandatory general education class for Penn State students to take at some point throughout their academic careers before they’re able to graduate.
“We would like to address the university, and we have to go through Penn State’s senate that chooses all of the courses for all of the students,” Wain said. “We kind of looked around and said ‘hey, this is a problem we’re facing on our campus, what’s being done about it?’ If we’re averaging around 40 [reported] sexual assaults a year, that’s ridiculous and needs to change. And the problem is that for every one that’s reported, there’s ten that aren’t.”
The main issue that Wain focused on in her documentary was the victim-blaming. Women are taught to protect themselves from the threat of sexual violence. We’re told to carry our keys in our hands, to wear longer skirts and less revealing tops, to travel in packs, et cetera. Wain’s question is, “why are women being taught to protect themselves from rape? Why aren’t men being educated on asking for consent?”
“Non-consensual sex is defined by not giving consent. Consent has to be something that’s a necessity, and it’s not,” Wain said. “It’s not something people make sure they have before they do anything. People aren’t conscious of it or respectful, they just do what they want and ask later. People put a lot of pressure on the female to figure out how to fix the problem, but they don’t ask him not to present the problem in the first place.”
An issue Penn State faces specifically is the relationship between alcohol and these instances of sexual assault. According to Wain’s documentary, 74% of reported sexual assaults occur after the ingestion of alcohol.
“When people are intoxicated, it’s harder for them to think that other people will believe them, and they’re more likely to blame themselves,” Wain said.
She discussed the fact that even in the nearly arctic winters at Penn State, girls go out on the weekends in nothing but a short skirt and a tank top. It’s become such a blindly accepted cultural norm to the point that if you aren’t dressed that way, you’ll get weird looks if you try to get into a frat. “To me, what’s sexy and what’s comfortable never really meet. They’re just participating in this whole ‘dress up and look sexy for me, appease me, come to my fraternity house, and be something that I can look at and objectify’ thing,” Wain said.
Wain definitely has a problem with the whole fraternity party deal. “The concept of a fraternity is just like, all the dudes live upstairs, right? They don’t have to go to you. You come to them,” she said. “You walk from East Halls all the way downtown to these parties and these guys are there. There’s alcohol, dim lighting, there’s dancing, there’s a lot of noise, and then it’s like… They lure you. I feel like they lure you into their rooms to have sex with you. That’s the whole idea. It’s just like this buffet of ‘who can I sleep with tonight?’ and it’s really sad, because it’s one thing if the female want to participate in it, it’s one thing if you’re looking to explore your sexuality, and that’s okay. But I think a lot of women are sort of made vulnerable because they’re not allowed to come into the party in the first place unless they represent something a guy’s seen in pornography.”
However, she doesn’t claim Penn State women’s attire for the rising number of sexual assaults occurring downtown. “That is slut-shaming. It’s silencing. ‘If a female is dressing all scantily clad, clearly she wants to have sex,’ that’s the general concept. There’s this idea that if you see a women walking on the street at nighttime, downtown on College, and they’re dressed up– ‘Well, what are they dressed up for?’ And to guys, they think that’s an invitation for sex. The problem is that it’s not. Men have this kind of privilege where they can manipulate the story like that and talk about the fact that she was dressed the part. They use it to excuse their own behavior, so it’s not seen as bad behavior on their part because it’s put on the women. It’s her issue then, because she shouldn’t have worn what she did.
Wain argues that when it comes to sexual assault, the biggest issue is consent, but another incredibly important aspect to look at is control. She argues that rape and sex differ because in a rape situation, the attacker is putting himself in control of the situation.
“Forcing yourself into another individual without their consent is horrendous. You’re essentially beating them,” Wain said. “Rape and sex should be different, completely differently viewed. Rape can be very violent. Rape isn’t about sex, rape is about control, and trying to use your sexuality as an excuse to hurt someone and win something. Essentially you’re making someone else inferior to you, you’re being the dominant force and it’s this very disgusting… I don’t even know what to call it. It’s awful.”
Much like Mike Dormitrz, the man who spoke to a Penn State audience about the importance of asking for consent in his presentation “Can I Kiss You?” two months ago, Wain believes that an imperative part of this process is simply convincing people to ask for a verbal approval before they embark on any sexual endeavors with another person.
“It’s something that doesn’t need to be so awkward. It’s such a respectful, kind acknowledgement of what your intention is,” Wain said. “The concept of consent is so shady because people don’t use it. So we need to make that conversation happen, and to make it something that’s exciting. To know the person you’re about to sleep with actually wants to sleep with you– it’s a compliment! And it’s exciting! It shouldn’t be something you’re asking because like, ‘Oh, we have to because I need to make sure I have consent.’ Hearing a woman say ‘Yes, I want to sleep with you’ and that should just fuel the sexual intimacy between the two of you.”
This comes back to her argument that Penn State needs to make a mandatory general education class to help students understand the dangers that are present, and to help them not to become those dangers. We don’t want any more Penn State students to be represented by the data Wain presented in her documentary, whether as an attacker or as a victim, so we need to teach them how to avoid becoming a statistic.
“If men don’t know what sex is and what consent is, then how can they look for it?” Wain asked. “If a class on this subject could even present the slightest possibility of solving that problem, then why wouldn’t we do it?”
Watch Unreported: a P.S.Umatter production by Stephanie Wain here: