How Fuck Rape Culture is shedding light on a neglected college culture
About one year ago, Ohio University received an astonishing amount of unflattering media attention regarding an infamous incident on Court Street involving a young man and woman engaging in sexual activity right outside of Chase Bank. The resulting buzz—which involved video circulation, dropped charges and the misidentification of one young woman in particular—sparked conversation not only on campus, but around the world. Since then, and in the wake of countless other headline sexual assault stories swirling around the country, the issue of sexual assault on college campuses has been dragged into the spotlight. Even President Obama has been talking about the issue, unveiling in September the “It’s on Us” campaign against sexual assault, as well as leading investigations of numerous colleges’ sexual assault policies.
It may be easy for students to believe that OU is a safe campus, that the national discussion of rape culture doesn’t concern them except for in isolated instances, like the Court Street incident from last year. However, many will tell you that OU’s rape culture is alive and well, and there are people who are working towards changing that. Take, for example, Fuck Rape Culture, an activist group here on campus.
“I think FRC as a group has become a bit of a force to be reckoned with,” said Claire Chadwick, president of the group. “I think we’ve really brought a lot of attention to the university and kind of forced them to really look at the issues within our university and understand that they have the resources to implement the changes that need to be made.”
It all started with a crime alert; according to Chadwick, an OUPD crime alert went out last year explaining that someone had been raped in her dorm room. The crime alert included safety tips on steps women can take to protect themselves. Chadwick explained that the crime alert had a “victim-blaming” tone that she thought was problematic.
In response to the OUPD alert, FRC was founded fall semester of 2014 when a few students, including Chadwick, got together and decided there were a lot of changes that needed to be made here at OU.“We kind of realized even when we get someone to walk us home it’s still somehow our fault,” said Chadwick.
Last year, FRC put on a march and a rally at the beginning of Homecoming weekend with three demands. “We wanted it to be clear that under no circumstances would you be penalized for underage drinking if you were assaulted. We wanted mandatory consent training for all incoming freshmen and sexual harassment training for student workers.” Within the last year, according to Chadwick, OU has met many of these demands. There is now an online module called “Not Anymore” that all incoming freshmen are required to take which deals with sexual assault. There are also plans in the works to offer sexual harassment training for student workers by next semester.
Chadwick believes FRC’s first rally helped pressure the administration into making some of the changes it has. “I feel like when there isn’t this loud radical student presence then the administration just sort of makes decisions and then implements said decisions,” said Madison Koenig, a member of FRC. “But when groups like Fuck Rape Culture … are out there publicly questioning the decision-making process and the decisions themselves, then it just makes the university more open for all students to kind of participate in this place in the policies that we’re creating.”
Sexual assault is a real problem, but is it really a cultural issue? Dr. Julie White, Director of Women Gender & Sexuality Studies at OU, would argue that it is. “I think the term ‘rape culture’ has been claimed both to capture the pervasiveness of the crime of rape but also the ways in which we live in a culture that contributes to the crime of rape,” White said.
But what exactly is this “rape culture?” And does it even affect the average college student?
“I say that rape culture is a culture in which sexual violence is normalized. … The fact that it’s common is not an issue,” Koenig said. “To live in a world where sexual violence happens every day and people don’t think of it as an epidemic or think of it as a crisis—it just is the way that the world works.”
From getting cat-called on Court Street to being judged for wardrobe choices, rape culture affects a lot of students’ daily lives. And despite popular belief, the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses is not only a female issue. “When it comes to male survivors of sexual assault, we don’t believe they exist,” said Koenig. The reality is, men are prone to, and do become, victims of sexual assault. However, it is not very often that we hear about these cases. While statistically women are more likely to become victims of sexual assault, the question, Chadwick claims, that we often ask of male survivors is, “how could you as a man let this happen?”
“We have an utter lack of sympathy for survivors of all genders,” Koenig said.
“I don’t know if OU is necessarily worse than anywhere else, but I think we absolutely have a very bad rape culture,” said Chadwick. “I mean, just walking down Mill Street, most women I know don’t feel safe.”
So, what does rape culture look like here at OU? Take, for example, the Welcome Weekend hubbub. Henry Kessler, a member of FRC, remembered seeing offensive banners, one in particular read, “red rover, red rover, let freshmen bend over.” The innuendo in this banner could be seen as offensive and highlights the relationship that many people in today’s society make between sex and power.
“Sex is linked in our minds to aggression, or to dominance and subordination,” White said. As a freshman, it would be easy to see a sign like the one Kessler described and to feel uncomfortable or even unsafe as a result. But acknowledging the problem still leaves the question: what causes these issues of sexual assault and our rape culture to be so prevalent? With the “party school” reputation and all its implications, there is a lot of pressure here at OU to party hard. For some people, that means drinking as much as possible. But, though it may be easy to blame much of the sexual violence on any campus on intoxication, White warns that this is problematic. “There is a very strong drinking culture at Ohio University and that contributes to levels of sexual violence,” White said. “But when we talk to a lot of students, there are some troubling assumptions about the relationship between aggression and desire in students when they’re perfectly sober.”
So, aside from recognizing the role that alcohol might play in sexual assault occurrences, what can we do to change the rape culture on our campus? That is the question that FRC intends to answer.
On Friday, Oct. 10, Fuck Rape Culture will be heading a rally at the bottom of Jeff Hill. According to one of many posters advertising the event, attendees are encouraged to “wear whatever the fuck you want.”
The group plans to have four demands: for all APD and OUPD officers to receive training on how to respond to survivors, for the university to absorb OU SAP (or the Survivor Advocacy Program currently provided through the Women’s Center), for all students to be required to take the “Not Anymore” online module and for all students to know their rights and understand mandated reporting.
“I think there are a lot of great things we’re working on to change the culture that exists,” Chadwick said. “But I think the thing that is going to be the most effective is educating people on what consent is and how they can challenge the systems that are in place.”
The group not only hopes to receive a lot of media attention, but that the attention they do receive will lead to results on the part of OU’s administration. “It’s not just an Ohio University problem–it’s a national problem,” said Jess Ensley, a member of FRC. “Rape culture isn’t just here, it’s everywhere. I’ve been hearing more discussion about it in national news, so I hope definitely us putting pressure on it brings it even more into light, and I hope our demands are met because of it.”
The thing about rape culture is that we, the members of said culture, have the power to change or demolish it. “Culture is something that we create through our actions, through our words, through the beliefs that we continue to hold,” Koenig said. “Shifting away from a rape culture is going to take time, but I would say that there’s only so much that administrative policies can do to make this campus better. There is a lot that they can do, but a lot of it has to be individuals deciding what kind of world they want to live in and what kind of world they want their friends to live in.”