The Daily Gamecock

Column: Sexual assault must be discussed

Education key to prevent more violence

As many students may or may not be aware, April has been designated “Sexual Assault Awareness Month.” There are many events being hosted throughout the month by the organization Stand Up Carolina and the Office of Sexual Assault and Violence Intervention and Prevention, which will serve to promote awareness of sexual assault in our community and to help support the victims thereof.
As this is an issue that is integral to our community, especially being that we are a university in an urban environment, it is important that we turn our attention toward the issue of sexual assault and harassment and our thoughts toward the survivors, as this is an issue that has touched us all — either personally or through a friend who is a survivor — whether we realize it or not.

It has been brought to my attention by many students, however, that for many on this campus, there is some confusion as to what constitutes sexual harassment and sexual assault. In the spirit of the month, I thought it prudent to address the issue, as the prevention of violence starts with education.

Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted comments or gestures, requests for sexual favors, rumors, jokes sexual in nature or discrimination based on sex. Also important to note is unwanted physical contact, such as trapping in hallways, hugging, kissing or touching in any way. The aggressor may not believe what they did was harassment, but the key point is that harassment is always from the perspective of the victim. If they believe a joke, comment or a touch was harassment, then it is harassment. Sexual harassment is a serious offense, as studies have shown that in environments where “just jokes” or “just flirting” is permitted, there is a much greater chance that the behaviors advance from harassment to assault.

Sexual assault, on the other hand, is the use or attempted use of sexual contact, including rape, forcible sodomy and any unwanted sexual contact characterized by the use of force, intimidation, threats, abuse of power or any other wrongful or abusive behaviors. The most important aspect of sexual assault is a lack of consent, and unsurprisingly this is also the aspect that confuses people the most.

Consent means that two people of sound mind are willing to have sexual relations with each other. One common misconception about consent is that it is simply “he/she said yes.” This is not the case. In fact, there is only one instance in which consent can be given: Both individuals are of sound mind and do not have impaired decision-making skills, there is no coercion, intimidation or threats, it is given before the sexual contact is made and both participants are over the legal age of consent (in South Carolina, 16 years old).

Any sexual contact without consent is assault. This means that if a person is intoxicated, they cannot give consent. If a person is under the influence of drugs, they cannot give consent. If a person is under the legal age of consent, they cannot give consent. If the person seems unsure or reluctant to say “yes,” then it is not consent. In all of these cases, even if the person says yes, any sexual contact made is still sexual assault, carrying a maximum sentence of 30 years in federal penitentiary.

Also, it should be noted that just because consent was given once in the past, it does not mean that it is given in the future. Studies have shown that 10 to 14 percent of ever-married women have been raped at some point by their spouse. Another thing that is important to reiterate is that if a person says yes but it is reluctant, or the person is obviously “not into it,” then the contact is sexual assault. The bottom line is, if either party does not hear “yes,” one party is handicapped or impaired or one party has agreed but unwillingly, then it is of the utmost importance that they stop the activity immediately. Should they proceed any further, it is sexual assault.

College-aged men and women are two to three times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped than any other age demographic. Yes, I said men and women. It is estimated that one out of every 10 men has been or will be raped at some point in his life by another man or a woman; for women, one out of every four. The crime has been referred to as “soul murder” as it has such a long-lasting negative impact on the survivor’s mental and physical health. Thirteen percent of survivors attempt suicide, and 33 percent have contemplated it. This is why it is so important that we educate ourselves about this issue so we know how to recognize the warning signs and respond appropriately.

Finally, there is one issue that plagues us all — bystander complacency. That is, seeing something happening and doing nothing. Students must take it upon ourselves to have the courage and the strength of character to step in and intervene, either by saying “knock it off” or calling the proper authorities if we see someone sexually harassing another, someone pressuring another into having intercourse and we see someone who is obviously intoxicated about to “agree” to have sex. Students should not be afraid to “look stupid” in front of their friends or “be a buzz-kill” or any of the millions of other excuses we feed ourselves to prevent ourselves from taking action. If we fail to act, someone could die. If we act, we’ve saved a life.


Trending Now

Send a Tip Get Our Email Editions