Last week, an 18-year-old Hofstra University student told police she had been gang-raped by five men in a residence hall bathroom. A few days later, she recanted her story and said the sex was consensual.
The story made national headlines, with some arguing over who was at fault for the debacle. Charges may be levied against the accuser, but the real question that should be asked is why would this woman make such an accusation and then retract it in the span of a few days? The possibilities are endless. Maybe she had consensual sex with the men, freaked out and cried rape, and then took it back. Maybe she just didn’t want to deal with the intense emotional stress and media frenzy that a rape trial so often involves, and thought that retracting her statement would avoid that.
Whatever her reasons, it’s doubtful we’ll ever know her true intentions because these situations are all purely speculative. But the societal conventions, more so than the possible reasons, that prompt a young woman to recant such a serious charge are worth analyzing. There is a distinctly sexist personal responsibility placed on women to not get raped – don’t drink too much, don’t wear short skirts, because if you do, you are clearly asking for it, is the sentiment. But why is there barely any responsibility placed on men? Men should take an equal responsibility for their actions, especially when alcohol is involved.
We have all heard some combination of statistics about the seriousness of rape and sexual assault. College-aged women are four times more likely to be sexually assaulted, according to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. One in six women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Of these, 60 percent are not reported to the police.
GW is rife with potential to educate its community not only about rape, but about healthy sexuality and sexual safety. Sex, let alone rape, is an uncomfortable topic of discussion for most people, but silencing the conversation only perpetuates the problem. Passing out condoms and pamphlets can only go so far. The GW Sexual Assault Crisis Consultation Team provides excellent resources and services about what to do if you’ve been raped or sexually assaulted, but their visibility on campus is next to nothing. The SACC Team should be just as publicized to the student body as 4-RIDE, another on-campus safety resource. Greek-letter life, sororities and fraternities alike, should do more to make the discussion about rape an integral part of their societies. At Colonial Inauguration, CI leaders should incorporate an in-depth program for incoming freshmen to discuss issues likely to confront them, especially since the definition of rape is complex and varied.
The incident at Hofstra is a wake-up call for GW and all universities to answer the problem of rape on campus. By no means can we singlehandedly stop it, but we can certainly expand on the resources we have to make our campus not just another statistic.
The writer, a junior majoring in women’s studies, is a Hatchet columnist.
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