Too often, sexual assault is seen as a “women’s issue.” On the contrary, when the U.S. Department of Justice reports that 20 percent to 25 percent of women in college say they experienced an attempted or completed rape while in college, it should concern us all.
That’s why it’s encouraging to see a group at Kansas University renewing its efforts to involve young men in the conversation about sexual assault. A panel discussion last week touched on topics such as language choice and risky behaviors. It also urged college men to intervene in potentially harmful situations and be supportive of friends who’ve been victims of sexual violence.
Unfortunately, the audience at the Kansas Union included only about 20 people. It’s a start, but this is an issue that deserves far more attention, especially from young men, who can be either the perpetrators or the victims of sexual abuse.
When a woman reports a sexual assault, the reflexive reaction often is to look at her behavior, whether she had been drinking, whether she had put herself in a risky situation. Regardless of the circumstances, a sexual assault involves at least two people. Men have a responsibility too. That responsibility includes steering clear of risky behaviors that can lead them to make bad decisions. It also means being willing to step in when a situation with someone else starts to get out of hand.
Changing attitudes about sexual assault is particularly important because of the difficulties of seeking legal remedies. Embarrassed victims too often don’t report the assaults and, even when reports are filed, it may be difficult to prosecute a case that relies heavily on conflicting “he said, she said” accounts.
It’s obvious that men play a role in sexual assault; it should be equally obvious that they need to play a role in preventing it. Last week’s event at KU at least got that conversation started.