Diane Rosenfeld, director of the Gender Violence Program at Harvard Law School, and Angela Epifano, a rape survivor, presented “Who you calling a ho? A Conversation About Sexual Respect” Nov. 13 in the Mitchell Auditorium on the topic of sexual respect in our culture.
Rosenfeld and Epifano emphasized the importance of education and awareness of this issue. With an increasing number of cases of sexual assault being reported on college campuses, Rosenfeld said that education about this issue, along with a conscious awareness of its causes, is the only way to reduce the presence of sexual assault among college students.
“A lot of schools shy away from the topic of sexual assault,” Rosenfeld said. “They don’t want to believe it’s happening on their campuses. But in order to change rape culture, you really have to look at it in the face. This culture is all around you, and each of us has the power to change it, to contest it, to stand up against it.”
The event was attended by a wide range of students, the majority of whom are members of Drexel sororities, fraternities and sports teams.
According to both Rosenfeld and Epifano, the solution to preventing rape in campus culture is by transforming the way students view each other. They stated that the frequent presence of sexism in our language needs to be addressed. According to Rosenfeld, men need to intervene and become allies of women, and women need to support each other more.
“The next time you see somebody and you don’t like how she’s dressed, don’t start judging her, don’t separate yourself from her, and don’t start thinking she deserves what she gets because of how she’s dressed. We have the right to dress however we want and still maintain our rights to sexual expression,” Rosenfeld said.
Epifano, a former Amherst College student, published her personal story of surviving rape in Amherst’s student newspaper in October 2012. The story gained worldwide attention with over a million people having read it.
“What’s powerful about my story, about all of these stories, is that they’re not just happening in one place. It’s not just Amherst or Yale [University] or Steubenville [Ohio]. It’s everywhere. This makes it so necessary for all of us to realize how painful and long-lasting rape is,” Epifano said.
Rosenfeld, who is also a leading national expert on Title IX of the Education Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, said that students need to know their rights. Many civil rights organizations maintain that sexual harassment and assault deprives a student of the free and equal access to education that Title IX ensures them.
According to Rosenfeld, the new Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which will be in effect beginning in March 2014, will mandate that colleges establish prevention programs to combat sexual assault as well as provide more extensive reports of sexual assault statistics. It will also require college administrations to be supportive of sexual assault victims and to consider that they might be at risk of committing suicide.
“It’s not the rape that will cause the suicide as much as the response from other students and from the school. The school has to teach its students that it is a violation of the conduct policy to retaliate against or intimidate someone from coming forward if he or she has been assaulted,” Rosenfeld said.
Media literacy and social consciousness are imperative to rape prevention, according to Rosenfeld. She also said that it is important that college parties not always take place in male-dominated spaces and that we all take the initiative to intervene when we see a situation that might escalate to sexual assault.
“With this new law in effect, the school can’t cause you further trauma. But it’s up to you, the students, to make sure rape doesn’t happen. Stand up for one another,” she said.