After the New York Times broke loose their investigation of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein on Oct. 5, women, celebrities and non-celebrities alike, took to social media with the hashtag #MeToo to show the nauseating extent of sexual harassment and violence. The messages give greater evidence for a truth that has been long-known by many: nearly every woman has been harassed or assaulted.
What is becoming clear is that commonly cited statistics, such as campus assault statistics compiled by The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) are most likely too low. The sheer number of those who have taken part in #MeToo gives an even fuller portrayal of the prevalence of this problem, and the numbers of victims who did not use the hashtag would undoubtedly send the number even higher. What is also clear is that there is a disturbing gap in public knowledge on this matter. One of the aspects of #MeToo that has been the most striking for people is the gigantic number of these messages. This is concerning—the fact that #MeToo can serve as a rude awakening about the quantity of victims represents a failure of formal education about the reality of the number of people this affects.
Learning boundaries and respect should start young. Personal space and asking for permission are virtues taught in elementary school, and this must extend into discussions in middle school about harassment and how to intervene for yourself and others. These middle school health classes fall at a time when kids are still letting their soon-to-be-cemented values dry, and a baseline understanding of respect and knowledge about what is and is not acceptable must be a part of this mold. By high school, students should be able to identify what constitutes consent and what constitutes harassment or assault. And even with good education on these topics before college, more education will always be needed.
At DU, the Office of Title IX lists information on how to report assault, and the Center for Advocacy, Prevention and Empowerment (CAPE) as well as DU’s Chaplain are confidential resources. However, there is a greater lack when it comes to programming. An online training and an informational session are required for incoming freshman before and during orientation, but there are no further mandatory trainings on sexual assault past that point. In DU’s 2016 Campus Perceptions of Unwanted Sexual Experiences survey, only a third of participants had recently attended programming about sexual assault. The survey also revealed that 46 percent of participants had experienced unwanted physical contact, and 64 percent viewed sexual violence and harassment as a problem at DU.
The Executive Summary of DU’s 2016 survey suggests that prevention education and training should be more frequent and required for all levels including undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff and administration. A greater quantity of mandatory programming is needed, but this programming must be organized in a way that will actually resonate. Since students are often likely to listen to their peers more than to school administrators, DU should consider hosting mandatory, student-run events about sexual assault statistics and prevention. Giving formal organization to a required event moderated by students could be a powerful way to be truthful about assault on campus and constructive when it comes to holding each other to standards of consent.
#MeToo has brought together only some of the millions of stories of assault and harassment and has been an important way for women to educate others, but there need to be far more methods of education along with this. Prevention is part of this education. Along with maintaining channels for reports there can also be a substantial bolstering of prevention methods and trainings, student-led and otherwise. Every DU student should be aware of how sexual harassment and assault happens around them each day, and every DU student should understand respect for boundaries and consent as well as collective responsibility for prevention.
The 2017 climate survey on unwanted sexual experiences is currently available at go.du.edu/genderviolencesurvey