How Do We Make Sense of This? Breaking Down Our Campus Rape Problem

There’s been no shortage recently of offensive, disappointing, and altogether jarring reports centered on similarly upsetting responses to sexual assault, particularly of the acquaintance-rape epidemic that lives on each day on campuses across the United States.

Take, for instance, the current debacle going down at the University of North Carolina, where Landen Gambill may be expelled for speaking out about her rape. A sophomore, Gambill has been called to the school’s “Honor Court” for “intimidating” her rapist and being “disruptive,” despite the fact that she hasn’t identified her alleged perpetrator and has merely expressed some negative truths about the school’s lack of support systems for survivors. (Background information you may find valuable and pertinent: her story came to light because of a mounting case against a former UNC dean for intentionally under-reporting sexual assault.)

Meanwhile in Colorado Springs, the University of Colorado has taken to dispensing “valuable” information for vulnerable populations on how to prevent their own sexual assault – an ages-old victim-blaming practice which is only made worse by the specific content in their list of recommended strategies: among them, peeing and vomiting in order to ward away rapists. Another tip? “Tell your attacker that you have a disease or are menstruating.” The implication is that the victim/survivor is inevitably burdened with the responsibility and blame for their assaults because they didn’t do enough, and also that rape is a crime committed not as a need for power, but out of sexual attraction that would dissipate if only she did something “gross.” And when universities fail to take real, progressive, and empowering steps toward rape prevention, every brochure they hand out starts to feel more like the guide on “How to Get Away With Rape” produced by a college student in Ohio this January. Until universities arm students with the right information, they will continue to feed a cycle of violence that perpetuates rape. (How to get away with rape: go to a rape-prone university in a rape-prone society.)

Of the innumerable obvious reasons to be disappointed about this bullshit, at the forefront are the chances these universities had to start meaningful dialogues on their campus, but didn’t take. The useless and victim-blaming tactics they’ve chosen instead have been approved by university power structures. It’s too late to take any of them back. What the fuck is going on? Well, a serious gap between acknowledgment and real understanding, and a corresponding gap between what is done and what needs to be done on campuses nationwide.


Before we begin, let’s start with the basics: rape is real, and it happens. And on college campuses, it happens a lotone in four college-aged women report rape or attempted rape, and one in five are raped during their collegiate years. 30.6% of lesbian or bisexual women report having been raped in their lifetime. Most survivors (80 – 90%) knew their attacker, be they classmates or close friends. As far as the perpetrators, we know that one in twelve men admit to rape, that 35% of men admit they would rape if they felt they wouldn’t get caught or punished. And fewer than 5% of rapes – attempted or completed – are reported to a legal body.

The sum of those numbers is grim, and together they add up to an image of campus life we don’t often see echoed in the media, in university environments, or in our own national discourse on the issues. (In fact, earlier this week Bob Beckel of Fox News threw a hissy fit about the “myth” of the acquaintance-rape epidemic, expressing his skepticism about the phenomena by asking, on air, “When’s the last time you heard about rape on a college campus?” How gentlemanly.)

At the heart of Beckel’s fantasy world, however, lies the central problem: we don’t hear enough about rape on college campuses. And we need to.


I worked actively on organizing around issues of sexual assault on college campuses and know the barriers activists face, even at the most liberal and progressive universities, to enact changes around violence against women that are real, tangible, and codified. In my one year spent as Director of AU’s Women’s Initiative, I picked up the pieces from my university’s administrators’ controversial decision not to pursue a $300,000 VAWA grant the year prior – explaining at a student-led meeting that “it wasn’t cost-effective” to devote those funds exclusively to education, or the hiring of a victim advocate. (The grant funds specific programs meant to reduce sexual assault on selected campuses, and the decision was made after the grant proposal had been read, approved, and re-approved.) Instead, AU reinvested existing money into more gradual changes on campus.

Moving forward, I made both compromises and demands to do my best to put structures in place before I left – since we weren’t in a budget cycle I couldn’t tackle the creation of a fully-funded women’s center (the creation of which was a years-old promise from administrators scrapped, dutifully, the instant I graduated), so instead I put together a “non-compulsory” educational program on consent and sexual assault that incoming students worked through at orientation. I held events using my organization’s money that expressed everything administrators could not: that women had the right to feel safe at parties and everywhere on campus, that rape apologism and justification was not acceptable, and that  there’s no middle ground when it comes to the fact that rape is unacceptable. There was no room for “grey rape” and no room for rape apology. Someone had to do that. Someone had to be willing to take the polarizing position. And, of no coincidence, it is typically a student with the freedom to do so – freedom from contractual obligations, pressure from superiors, and lobbying voices from, apparently, the depths of Hell’s most evil chambers.

After one year of rabble-rousing, however, I graduated. And poof. I was gone, and so was my work and my voice.


Student activists and even administrators working to tackle the issue of sexual assault on campuses face the same recurring obstacle: turnover. Staff relationships and responsibilities shift quickly, and students passionate enough to create change eventually have to leave and trust that someone will pick up where they left off. Administrators understand this dynamic well enough to reassure student advocates with basic improvements while holding out on larger and more important ones.

To indicate or assume, however, that all staff and administration personnel on college campuses in this country are pro-rape or working to create and foster unsafe spaces is simply untrue. Universities face a unique “conundrum” specific to their structure: educating and taking action around sexual assault in a public way makes them more vulnerable to parental concern and less “attractive” to potential students, and budgets are often too tight to make changes to resources in an appropriate time frame when concerns arise. Administrators I worked with to create changes on my campus also frequently cited a (tired) concern in which students or parents would come to campus, see anti-rape educational materials, and then become so “concerned” about the “need for those materials” that they stray from ultimately selecting to study at the school. In other news, atop budgetary complications, colleges face a catch-22 wherein taking action against assault somehow looks more problematic than rape itself, because it’s done in the public sphere while rape is committed in secret. It is because of a fundamental lack of discussion on campuses and in our culture about these issues that that concern is very real – because parents and students alike prefer to pretend that those problems occur outside of their own college bubble and social scene. Because we actively deny rape happens, and it makes us feel safe to do so.

Despite mandatory reporting laws for school officials, such as the Clery Act, rape also remains vastly underreported both on campuses and in a broader sense – meaning that universities will only be “responsible” for and report one or two assaults each year despite the statistically proven prevelance of acquaintance rape on campuses across the country. The problem, then, is that more victims and survivors need to report in order to force schools to be accountable. And yet, in our current justice system and political climate, that very act is a huge risk: perpetrators can take violent or threatening actions against students; in some universities reports of sexual assault don’t warrant class changes or restraining orders against an alleged rapist; in many cases, survivors may even be encouraged not to report in order to keep numbers low, and cases may be overlooked to protect the alleged attackers. And as Landen Gambill’s story makes clear, there’s no guarantee that speaking out about your rape won’t just cause the administration itself to punish you for it.

What we are witnessing is a slowly-mounted shift from a passive rape culture to an active one; from hidden desires to silence rape survivors to real words and actions from university leaders that tell us how badly they don’t want to confront this issue or even look it in the eye. And whether or not that change is purposeful, malicious, or premeditated, it is harmful.


I do have some faith in the student bodies across this nation to attempt to uphold rape-free societies on their campuses. And individual actions, no matter how small or seemingly futile, are invaluable. When one of my friends came forward publicly about two sexual assaults on our campus, the student community reacted visibly: social groups were changed; my friends and I had to kick people we once liked out of our parties. But it wasn’t enough, and tellingly, the administration did nothing. A rapist still played on our basketball team. A rapist still walked around the quad. Every day rapists, known rapists, cross campus to go to class. Every day rapists walk freely in the spaces that should be safe for everyone. Every day, there are survivors of rape who suffer greater backlash than their rapists do.

But sometimes small actions do work, albeit in small measure: when someone in my graduating class penned an op-ed about the “incoherent concept” of acquaintance rape and blamed rape reports on “regret” for “bad drunk decisions,” students barricaded the American University Eagle’s office and circulated petitions (ahem, that was me, I was on TV once) until the administration responded. And yet, promises made by them still hadn’t come to fruition by the time I graduated. This was in 2009. Still I wait to donate to my alumni association. Still I wait for progress.

When universities hesitate to take action against alleged rapists, the message to their student bodies is loud and clear: we don’t give a fuck. Or, to give them a slight benefit of the doubt, we don’t give a fuck enough. Students are not stupid, nor are they blind to or uninformed about happenings on campus; when administrators selectively tackle issues their priorities speak louder than a billion rape prevention brochures. Combine this with active efforts to cover up, apologize for, and justify rape and the message is even bolder: we don’t believe rape is a real problem and we don’t want students to act like it is. And students who do, will pay.

When universities act that way, they perpetuate a rape culture. Knowingly or not, they help create a new generation of rapists and survivors. They foster a fucked-up power dynamic where people trying to fulfill their dreams may be derailed by violence at any moment. Colleges foster the future, and if they refuse to progress the national and international discourses on rape – those which place responsibility on victims to prevent their own assaults and forgive rapists because “boys will be boys,” those which blame victims and perpetuate rape myths, those which leave survivors with no safe spaces – it will be bleak. And futhermore, since universities are directly accountable to the needs of their enrolled students and their larger communities (AU, for instance, was almost completely tuition-funded and therefore relied on our money), when colleges ignore the rape epidemic they are failing as community institutions. They are failing in their very missions every second they do not act to protect the potential victims of assault and take care of the existing survivors of rape and violence in their community.

What we need is a change: an acknowledgement that comes with empathy and the ability and drive to conceptualize a world without rape. Rape denial, victim-blaming, and rape apology aren’t new phenomena, and in fact it seems fair to say they’re getting old. As you read this the Violence Against Women Act’s reauthorization remains a political pawn, with real women’s lives on the line. As you read this, thousands of rape kits sit unprocessed and unacknowledged in cities across the United States. And in the time it took me to read over the news I referenced in this post – let’s say four hours – 312 women in America were raped.

These concerns are not meant to take away from our progress. Over the years we’ve been able to carve out more and more dialogues on what constitutes a sexual right and what it means to be safe, protected, and responsible. But if we’re hoping to change a culture, a good place to start would be its hotbeds. A good place to start would be its future citizens. The responsibility to promote dialogue, make progressive changes, and uphold victims’ rights on college campuses is paramount. In fact, it could very well be the key to a new culture.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. Thank you for writing about this and writing so well and with so much passion.It makes me really sick how literally backwards it is that rapists are protected by Universities all over the country. I knew the guy that attacked me and he did the same thing to a few other girls before he graduated and entered the real world completely unscathed. The University, The Vice President of Student life, bullied me and my parents into a disciplinary agreement, I was punished for underage drinking and I had to thank them for not expelling me. My mother literally made me thank them. The message I got was that there are no rules and there is no justice when your school ranks annually in the top 10 most dangerous campuses. They will do everything they can to keep that number as low as possible. Even punishing victims to prove a point. There are now programs as part of freshman orientation about “how to stay safe”, there are well lit paths to walk, campus police can escort you wherever, but we aren’t addressing the issue which is the constant message that this is acceptable behavior for college men.

    • Now that I got that out of my system…wait…


      Okay. This is just so so so so frustrating! I went to a safety on campus meeting which was sponsored by our Women Today chapter and it was nice to see actual men there but I realized a lot of them during the Q&A had so many victim-blaming comments. One woman was physically shaking because the comments disturbed her so much that she ended up leaving. I literally had to bite my tongue because there were ground rules about respecting people’s opinions and view points. I hope my bleeding lower lip from biting it due to absolute frustration with the comments has opened some of their eyes!

      As the discussion went on there we some people who challenged some of the assumptions some of men said and there was a close “what about the menz!??!! in street harassment” but luckily a queer man finally contextualized the experience of male-male sexual assault and went as far to BRINGING IT BACK TO THE TOPIC of campus safety for all the people. Plus he recognized that this issue happens to too many female-identified persons and literally said in frustration “It’s nice that men attended this discussion but please, your hypothetical scenarios of male prison rape are fucking insulting to the real-life of experiences of people who experienced sexual assault and stinks of homophobia!!” I clapped and some of the guys left and honestly I DID NOT GIVE ANY FUCKS!

      It’s so annoying that I find myself shaking sometimes. Yeah some of the opinions of the people who I just couldn’t stomach without raging might have been out of “pure” ignorance but I ran out of fucking spoons two days ago dealing with people’s victim-blaming comments and hatefulness of female-identified persons.

      Thanks you so much Carmen for writing this article and allowing me to share my campus experience of dealing with this discussion of campus rape-culture. I think I got a couple of spoons back!

  2. “There was no room for “grey rape” and no room for rape apology. Someone had to do that. Someone had to be willing to take the polarizing position. And, of no coincidence, it is typically a student with the freedom to do so – freedom from contractual obligations, pressure from superiors, and lobbying voices from, apparently, the depths of Hell’s most evil chambers.”

    I recently wrote an article for my university newspaper about sexual assault on campus, and while all the administrators I spoke to seemed well-meaning, there was a common refrain that I heard a lot, which was along the lines of, “oh, there can be such a gray area to prosecute when there’s alcohol involved.” Even the student activists on campus right now have been using a similar refrain of, “I just don’t think people understand what consent is.” And okay, both of those things might be factually true, but within the context of a crime that is so underreported and so commonly made the victim’s fault and so much more about power than about sexual attraction, those are dangerous refrains to be spouting. All it does is reinforce rape apology and tell potential rapists that not getting consent could just be seen as an “accident.”

    • And it’s FRUSTRATING, because someone on my campus DOES need to take the polarizing position, but given the hugely anti-activist culture of my university, I have a feeling that any attempts at an uncompromising, lobbying stance would be at best ignored and at worst ridiculed.

    • just gently remind them that consent, under the law, is completely invalid when alcohol is involved. quite a brainteaser, eh?

      i sympathize with your campus climate situation – i had the extreme blessing to be part of a crazy hippie school and it was sort of my saving grace. maybe find yourself other activist spaces — off-campus ones within your larger community — to tackle these issues even more broadly?

  3. I haven’t read this all yet, but the sentence in the middle of the 3rd paragraph reads “the impilcation is… that rape is a crime committed out of a need for power, not sexual attraction to a girl that would dissipate if only she did something “gross.”

    Which I’m pretty sure is supposed to be the other way round? Just thought I’d get that out of the way before I read the rest and get too annoyed at the world to care about sentence structure.

  4. Thank you for this article. This may be a hard question to answer but where do you go to start getting involved with women’s rights? Maybe there are articles on here already I could be directed to or other online resources?

    I am so tired of sitting idly by! I am tired of constantly hearing people in powerful positions make asinine statements in regards to rape. I am tired of being bombarded with reports and articles about the violence and injustice women face here and all over the world. The excuses are so piss poor and the current discourse has done little to impress me.
    When are people going to realize rape isn’t a fucking punchline? Or that victims go through enough trauma without the added insult of being blamed for another person’s action? Or that women don’t just desire to be safe IT IS OUR RIGHT TO BE SAFE!

    • i’ve worked with some great campaigns and nonprofits in the past, most notably THE LINE campaign ( which i love deeply. i recommend finding a local DV shelter, or rape crisis center, or other “feminist” space which you feel is tackling the issues you care about, and then asking them how to get on board. also, just being vocal counts as action, you know! go to rallies, and talk to people in your community. and start discussions other people won’t.

      does any of this make sense? is it too late? who knows. i love you.

      • It does make sense and it’s not too late! Thank you!! I will be looking in to THE LINE and finding a local shelter.

  5. It has a been a disturbing experience to discover how many people, myself included, have suffered rape and sexual assault at my alma mater. I was orally raped the second week of my senior year. It was hard for me to even acknowledge what had happened. I blamed myself for drinking, wondered if was even REALLY rape, worried no one would believe this guy could have done something like that to me. I was wronged, yet I felt responsible. I went to counselor, but I didn’t report it to the Dean out of fear. Now I struggle with more guilt because I didn’t report. But if I HAD reported, how could I possibly know the end result–the UNC incident must have been lifted from my nightmares.

    I hope other rape survivors are never subjected to the same overwhelming self-doubt about the validity of their experience. I hope they never fear reporting because they aren’t sure they’ll be believed. I hope they never have to see their rapist around campus. Most of all, I hope they aren’t raped. But the worst part is I know they WILL be raped and suffer the same doubts and fears until real progress is made to combat campus rape by universities across the country.

    • Thanks for speaking out. I think I know how you feel. I had so fully bought into rape culture that when it happened to me, I couldn’t let myself believe I was the “kind of girl” who would “let herself get raped” to the point that I literally begged him to forgive me for saying no and trying to fight him off when I had been flirting with him earlier. Now I feel ashamed for not speaking out. But at the same time, I’m not sure that the guilt I feel today is worse than what would have happened if I had reported him.

  6. I was just talking about this EXACT subject last weekend. We live in a society that whenever we (rarely) DO engage in dialogues about rape, we teach women “not to get raped” INSTEAD of teaching men simply NOT to rape. Nothing could be more backwards! As discussing rape and rape culture becomes more a part of campus conscious, we have GOT to begin with educating it’s young men that women’s bodies are not receptacles for their egos or their complexes. Raping us is simply not an available option. There is absolutely nothing a rape victim can do to ever justify being raped. If I so choose to walk down the street BUTT-ASS NAKED, you STILL don’t have the right to rape me!

  7. I am confused by something that maybe someone can clear up for me. If you are a student on a college campus, do regular police not have jurisdiction? I guess what I don’t understand is how this is even possible or legal. I get the military thing–in the military you know going in that you are literally under a different set of laws, so any crime there would be processed in accordance with those laws.
    But students are civilians. So I guess that’s where my confusion comes in.
    I guess my question is this: if I were a student that got raped on campus by another student, would I be able to report the crime to the police or would I be forced to report it to campus security? And if so, how is that even remotely close to legally ok? (Or for that matter morally ok…)

    Not that the police are all that awesome either, but I would trust the police and the state or city justice system way more than I would some heads-up-their-ass school board.

    • It varies by campus (as far as I know), but in the UNC case Gambill had the option of filing legal charges with the police, or filing a case with the honor board at the university. She thought the university method would be the easiest/least painful. Unfortunately, in an area like Chapel Hill, it’s difficult for a student to go to the police. The police have so much going on and students fall through the cracks. Unfortunately, the Chapel Hill honor board is full of assholes who like to blame the victim. Gambill never actually named her rapist, but her stating he was her ex-boyfriend essentially outed him to everyone who knew about their relationship in the past (thanks FERPA!).

      My personal favorite part? The [dis]honor board used the victim’s history of depression and past suicide attempt(s) against her. Student conduct processes drive me effing crazy.

    • often the police in the community work alongside ‘security’ officials on cases like these, but only if the survivor opts to bring either body on board. HOWEVER — ON CAMPUS — if you are not speaking to a confidential source, despite being over 18, police WILL be notified and you WILL have to deal with them reaching out, which can actually suck for survivors a lot, and is terrible.

      this sort of thing changes from school to school, but wrt reporting to cops, it’s always an option – just not one frequently taken as far as i know from my own experiences.

  8. You’ve misinterpreted one of the statistics from the NYU page you cited: 30.6% of lesbians/bisexuals reported being raped, instead you wrote that 30.6% of rape victims were lesbians/bisexuals.

  9. I hope this is okay to post here, but if any of you are up in Massachusetts in the Five College area, UMass students are having a week of action against rape culture. I’m not involved in it directly, but it’s one of the most impressive campaigns I’ve seen (their advertisements were super inclusive and included minorities and men) and they’re having a rally this Friday.

  10. Thank you for this article, Carmen. I’m continually sickened and astonished by how awfully university administrations treat rape survivors.

    I’m wondering how we could begin discussions about rape culture in high school. I’d love to see some more comprehensive sex ed that addresses rape culture and consent BEFORE these kids are thrown into the incredibly rape apologetic environment of college. Any tips for how a teacher at a relatively progressive private school could pitch this idea to her administration?

  11. I just recently graduated from UNC and I was glad to see Landen’s story making headlines and being taken seriously. It’s been frustrating and emotionally heartbreaking to see others question her actions and try to remove the focus from her sexual abuse and the university’s decisions. After being trained last year to help others locate campus resources for sexual/relationship abuse, I was confident that students could easily access many protections and services at UNC. There definitely are resources out there, but now I feel unsatisfied, confused, and disappointed about the reality for students who do seek campus services and choose to speak out. In any case, I’m happy that Landen chose to be an outspoken advocate and that others are discussing their own experiences/knowledge about the reality of sexual abuse on campuses.

  12. I got kicked out from my residential college after being raped. I was told that I would not be allowed to stay unless I saw a counsellor every week. I was not comfortable with doing this, as talking about/remembering the rape was awful for me, but was told “unless you talk about it you will never get better”, as though they knew exactly what was best for me. They made no efforts to punish the actual rapist – he still lives in the college.

    • This hurts my heart. I’m so sorry you were subjected to that. :(
      The complete breakdown of justice for rape victims makes me want to shine the brightest, most castigating spolight in the faces of the perpetrators so everyone would see their crimes and they would be dealt with accordingly.

  13. It makes me so angry when ‘consent education’ is presented as an effective way of lowering the incidence of sexual assault. It feels like nothing more than yet another attempt to excuse rapists (who just made an honest mistake because they didn’t know what consent means) and pander to them, in the hope that they might stop raping us if we’re extra nice to them. I’d like to see survivor-centred programmes / events on, for example, myths about surviving sexual violence and ‘acceptable’ survivor narratives in the media, but the chances of something like that happening seem minimal.

    • Yes yes yes this
      When I talked to an administrator at my school recently re: sexual assault, she told me that last semester there had been a repeat offender who had used alcohol as a tool to attack multiple women in a short amount of time – and then, in the next breath, she was saying that she thought that most people “just didn’t understand consent.” I was too surprised at the time to point out to her that a repeat offender like that probably knew EXACTLY what he was doing.

      • i don’t really know if i completely agree with that. consent education is important. consent education teaches vulnerable populations that they have sexual rights and empowers people to define and become comfortable articulating their boundaries. it gives people the tools to assert their sexual desires and needs and leaves people with a healthier understanding of what sexuality is, looks like, and feels like.

        it also places an onus on pleasure and on CHOICE, making it clear that no means no but even better, yes means yes, and that silence is not consent, etc etc etc. teaching human beings to “wait for the yes” before pushing themselves on someone sexually seems really important to me from a prevention standpoint. it’s a step toward a huge cultural change in how we think about sex, sexual violence, and the huge area in between.

        i think this is all important just because it sort of drives a point home.

        the reason victim-blaming happens is, many times, because we all fundamentally lack an understanding of what consent it and how it works. the reason rape victims have trouble in court is, many times, because we all fundamentally lack an understanding of what consent is and how it works. because a consent framework, nationally, needs to exist in our legal system. because consent, not clothing, not a reputation, is what ultimately is the deciding factor between what is sex and what is a violation. and lawmakers, men and women, politicians, community leaders, lawyers — everyone should have that basic understanding.

        consent education makes it impossible to excuse rape. it makes it impossible to pretend rape was anything but forcible sexual violence. it makes it impossible to say that someone “wanted it” if they never said they did, or changed their mind about whether or not they did.

        i just wanted to throw in my two cents. consent is sort of how i live in this movement. so i just wanted to go ahead and defend it a little. but i love you!


        • You’re right, consent education is extremely important for all the reasons you mention. But it’s only one half of the equation, and in order to address the problem we as a society need to focus on both halves.

  14. “After one year of rabble-rousing, however, I [and my people] graduated. And poof. I was gone, and so was my work and my voice.”

    This x 10000

    Colleges need sustainable activism. The best kind comes from students, but the institution is responsible for seeing through lasting change.

  15. I hate our society and it’s rape culture so fucking much. It makes my fucking blood boil. I can’t fucking say more than that because mine is a rage that is incomprehensible to me. FUCK. THEM. ALL.

  16. The Gender Equality society in my university(of which I’m a committee member)started a Don’t Be That Guy campaign , the reaction to it was fantastic and it began a really active discourse around rape culture. However, when we began getting involved in issues surrounding reproductive rights(abortion is illegal in Ireland) we were banned by the university from any campaigning and from expressing any corporate opinions, even against rape. It just makes me so so angry.

  17. I don’t know exactly how to word this, but I wish all the articles about rape didn’t always only use “he/him” when talking about rapists. I was raped by my then girlfriend, on more than one occasion. I look pretty butch, as in people call me sir all the time, and she was this cute femme who had a full scholarship and was loved by the whole campus, known by name to the deans and president, and highly respected. When I told a counselor on campus she (also knowing my girlfriend) said “if what you claim is really true, that doesn’t sound very healthy.” I wish so much that the talk around rape and rape culture didn’t always assume gender/roles/presentations. I don’t want to take away from anybodies experience, but I want to see my experience recognized, too.

    • I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I totally agree. My boyfriend was in an abusive marriage with a woman. He felt alienated for the same reason, and his complaints were not taken seriously by police. His experience shone a light on the issue for me, and I am ashamed that I’d previously been one of those people who assumed that abuse of men by women wasn’t as “bad”. It’s all bad! Even if most rapists and abusers are men and most victims of such are women, we do everyone a disservice by assuming “all”. I want to see your experience recognized, too!

    • I agree with this. I really think rape in the same sex community is underrecognized and under spoken about. I knew several people who attended single-sex college who were raped by other students and there just seemed to be this horrible culture of silence around it, even to the point where if you tried to stop speaking to someone who had assaulted someone YOU were the asshole.

  18. I’m so proud to be a part of a college campus that not only takes this issue seriously, but in a way that doesn’t perpetuate rape culture. I’m interning at our Violence Intervention and Prevention Center (Kentucky Wildcats, wooo!) where the Green Dot strategy started. For anyone looking to learn more about this issue or to get involved, our website is a good place to start: []

    I really hope to see more campuses taking this issue seriously. There are certified green dot instructors all over the nation but it remains a struggle to really change the culture surrounding rape and violence on campuses. Thanks for writing about it (so articulately, I might add!), Carmen.

  19. THANK YOU. This is eveything I had been dying to scream at the top of my lungs in the middle of my college’s green. But I couldn’t, because confidentiality rules forced me into silence.
    The rapist is still on that campus, free and clear and having a grand old time, and I had to run like hell out of there, because the college proved they just dudn’t give a fuck. Rapist or not, they picked him, loud and clear. The vast, vast majority of my friends either had no idea what was going on (because of confidentiality – thanks college, for destroying any chance we had at forming a support system on campus), picked the rapist (bought into the gray rape idea), or thought I needed to move on and “stop talking about rape.”
    So thank you, again, from the very bottom of my heart, for talking. It means more to me than you might know.

  20. I am British, but was dating an exchange student at the beginning of university. I wanted out of the relationship, and tried to tell him I thought I was gay, and he raped me. He also, on another occasion, hit me so hard that I permanently lost some of my sight in one eye. I have never been able to talk to anyone about this. I didn’t think any of my so-called friends would believe me, so I stayed in the relationship. Better the devil you know, I guess. There is no support network for rape victims at my university, no activism, no awareness. I was almost raped by ANOTHER student on the first night of university and only ‘escaped’ because I was menstruating and he was disgusted and kicked me out. I felt such guilt and shame over being queer because I thought it meant I had brought the rape on myself, and ended up in another abusive relationship after my first boyfriend left me to go back to the USA. That relationship lasted throughout my whole next year of university, and I lost all my personality in being subservient to him because I was trying to repress my queerness. I was so miserable, but something finally made me break up with him last summer. He took all my friends, having told a bunch of lies that they believed and I am now more alone than ever.

    I’m a lesbian, but I’m not out because for me ‘coming out’ is so tied up in having been raped that all I feel is guilt, fear and shame. He not only took my body, he took my ownership of my sexuality. I feel so lost.

    • I don’t know you who are but I will say this: I love you.

      Your story has touched me and I empathize on how you are feeling about your experience. What you just shared is not something that is easy to say and you are brave for it. What you went through does not make you any less queer so long you feel this “label” is right for you. One thing I would want to say that when comes to your future actions, please believe in your right, your autonomy to be happy. Believe in the power to love yourself most of all. If you ever stumble you are still worthy, you are still strong, you are still here.

      Please know that it is up to YOU to choose your sexuality. No one owns it but you, please, please know that, believe that and live it. No matter what happens to you, me anyone you are still you. I hope you find your way, I hope you love yourself fiercely and when you flinch you can have the ability to look into your eyes and find worth.

      You will find the light and people do love you for you.

  21. I was in the Navy from 1973 to 1976. during my advanced training I was told by an instructor that If I didnt put out I would not graduate and would be discharged. I went to superior who blew me off, but a male peer ended threatening the instructor and he backed off. at my duty station I was the only woman in the command, and apparently the first woman the cmmander had ever had to deal with or so he kept telling me. I endured sexual harassment to the max. slaps on the butt, grabs, groping, pinches, being traped in equipment room and groped while a tongue was forced down my throat to down right sexual assault. I endured mental abuse, physical abuse and was given the worst of jjubs purposely to see if I would ‘complain’.. definately treated unequal when it came to inspections. I reported on several occassions to the commander who always had the same reply… “I never had a woman in my command before, I dont have anything to compare this to” in other words, I plan to do nothing and dont really want you here… I tried to get a transfer, then I asked for a discahrge… nothing worked until I went to the media and told my story – I was nice and didnt say the R word they then gave me a discharge, but called my psychologically unfit… and that’s the governments way of dealing with trauma.. now we see why the guys come home from war ‘fixed’….

  22. This is sickening. Do what I did, stay away from creeps in college and be a bookish, campus recluse. What’s the point of going out and socialising if this is the kind of trash one will come into contact with?I recall how in my freshman year everyone just seemed so superficial and mean-spirited ( I’m a smalltown girl) my reflex reaction was to withdraw socially. I know it wasn’t healthy but it probably saved my backside. I refused to go clubbing or get into anyone’s car. It was to campus and back, to campus to the mall and back. I was a fruitcake,I ignored my environment. An environment which pretends that people like me don’t exist so I did not feel guilty not participating in it.
    I’ve seen the sort of victim-blaming creeps you refer to upclose and avoid them like the plague. What’s the point of engaging them?

    I know I’m ranting but I heard of and witnessed campus rape being
    swept under the carpet. Three girls committed suicide during my tenure but no credible reason was ever publicised. The university’s recruitment brochures were spotless, every open day was fantastic, there were ‘student support’ services [they were called Befrienders] and everybody loved loved the Dean. YUCK!!!

  23. It pisses me off so much that Universities try so hard to “cover up” rape stories, or act like rape isn’t a huge problem with college aged women everywhere, on every single campus in this country. My school is made up of 70% women so I KNOW it’s an issue at my school. I know a couple of close friends who have been sexually assaulted, nearly raped, and raped by people at this school, and because of fear of social chastisement, they’ve said nothing about it and their assaulters have graduated unscathed.

    My friend and I want to host a rape seminar on campus, but we feel that the student life administration won’t go for it. They have often times turned down events, news articles, and etc. that are “too noisy” about issues that make people uncomfortable, and this would definitely be one of them. But it’s so important that the student bodies of our universities, especially us women, get vocal about this and don’t shut up about it. We NEED to change this issue.

  24. “students barricaded the American University Eagle’s office and circulated petitions (ahem, that was me, I was on TV once) until the administration responded.”

    “that women had the right to feel safe at parties and everywhere on campus,”

    So you harassed people with a heckler’s veto to insist the respect a right you don’t have.

    Why would anyone admit that?

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