USF students ask school to take steps to end rape culture

11/30/12 Janelle Irwin
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Two rapes were reported on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida last month and still have not been solved. A group of students is asking the school to incorporate a program that would rein in what they call rape culture.

The students rallied for the first time yesterday afternoon in front of the busy Marshall Student Services Center. As people passed, members of Students for a Democratic Society including President Dani Leppo, gathered petition signatures.

“We feel USF has not responded effectively to this problem as this has manifested itself on our campus. Therefore, we have created a petition with the following demands: a requirement for all incoming students to take an hour long course as provided for the Center for Victim Advocacy through REAL in order to combat [rape] and encourage people to end manifestations of rape culture. Because rape culture marginalizes women, we demand that the women studies department be expanded to educate and provide space to educate and talk about this crisis.”

Most of the passing students knew they'd like a rape-free campus, but didn't understand what exactly rape culture was. Ednie Garrison, a professor in the Women's and Gender Studies department at USF read through an impassioned blog she found while doing research. The author described an all too common mentality that women who dress provocatively are asking to be raped.

“So when people say things like, ‘well boys will be boys’ what they’re saying is we don’t want to have to think about the way we raise boys, it’s much easier just to assume when boys behave badly, in whatever ways they behave badly, that’s just nature. The fact that people say that wars will always exist, that inequality will always exist, that the relationships between men and women, that status of women is just inevitable – to me what I hear at those moments are people who don’t want to think outside of what they’ve been taught is natural and normal.”

But in her own words, Garrison described the culture as being undeniably intertwined with the prevalence of violence in American society.

“Rape doesn’t exist as extensively in every human culture as it exists in ours. So, there’s something at the core of our culture that is really screwed up and until we are ready to face that thing itself the problem isn’t going to go away.”

According to Lieutenant Chris Daniel the University of South Florida approaches the issue by teaching women how not to be victims. He said the campus police is looking into the two outstanding rape cases and even though they haven't been solved, he doesn't think the problem is unmanageable

“The University is well-equipped, hopefully, the prevention and then in the aftermath, the after care of a victim once a sexual battery occurs.”

USF police offer a variety of programs teaching women, and in some cases men, how to keep themselves from becoming a victim.

“Ultimately it comes down to the users of that information. That would be the students – is to think their way through situations, don’t put themselves in compromising positions. I believe Nancy Newton spoke to the alcohol, the relationship of alcohol to these situations. That’s very accurate and if people can follow safety precautions – don’t leave a drink unattended, don’t drink something that’s been opened and given to you, don’t bring people home that you don’t know…”

But according to student activists concerned about how rape is perceived by society, that is the problem. Catherine Lim, a student activist with Students for a Democratic Society, doesn't think that rape prevention should fall solely on telling young women they need to carry mace and take self defense courses. Instead she said people need to change their perception of women.

“I was by myself and I thought I was fine but then when I walked in this guy just says, ‘hey let me see your tits’ and I was like, ‘wait, did he just say what I think he said?’ He repeated it and so I didn’t look at him, I just walked out of there and I just got so angry … and needed to talk to somebody about it. Then I called someone I knew to explain the situation and the first thing she asked was, ‘what were you wearing?’ I said I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts and she goes, ‘oh, your shorts must have been too short. That’s just what happens when you where shorts like that.”

Speaker after speaker highlighted the depiction of rape as sexy in the media in a time where 50 Shades of Gray tops best seller lists. The countless books, movies and television shows glamorizing sex have desensitized societies to rape in some cases. Michael Awbry, co-coordinator of the group REAL, or Relationship, Equality and Anti-violence League said another way to reduce the problem is to teach people the interception. That's when someone who sees a potentially threatening situation at a party or social event intervenes by talking to the potential victim.

“Everyone always talks about reducing your risk of rape - carrying pepper spray, taking a self defense class – those are all great risk reduction techniques, but the only way for rape to be completely prevented is for the rapist to decide not to rape someone of for a by-stander who is witnessing a situation to step in and actively intervene.”

The group collected a few dozen signatures on their petition to add a mandatory one hour "rape culture" class for entering students. But according to a press release from the university, no plans are being made to do that at this point.

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