Oberlin Must Take Next Step in Sexual Misconduct Prevention

Editor’s Note: This article contains discussion of sexual misconduct and sexual assault.

As the school year begins, it is imperative that students keep in mind the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus and do what they can to minimize it in our community. Over 50 percent of sexual assaults on college campuses happen between August and November. Around 11 percent of all college students will be victims of sexual assault during their college careers, and 70 percent of campus survivors know their perpetrator prior to their assault.

Further, 23 percent of women in college report that they have experienced some sort of nonconsensual sexual contact. More than 50 percent of these victims do not report the act, as they do not view it as “serious enough” to report. Finally, one in five college students have witnessed some form of sexual misconduct, meaning that 20 percent of students have acted as bystanders during an act of sexual misconduct or violence.

Our sexual misconduct statistics here at Oberlin match these almost exactly. We are fortunate to have educational Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct workshops — sponsored by the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion — that are required for all Oberlin students.

I have witnessed numerous interventions at parties or other events where bystanders used words and phrases taken directly from these workshops. However, simply intervening on behalf of a potential victim is not enough to bring down the rate of sexual misconduct on our campus.

On several occasions when I observed bystander intervention, the intervention — while effective in terms of ensuring a potential victim’s safety — did not stop the perpetrator from continuing their behavior with another person at another time and place.

Potential perpetrators do not necessarily have a specific target in mind; rather, they tend to prey on whomever they possibly can. While it is certainly valuable to remove people from potentially dangerous situations, it is equally important to take steps to ensure that the potential perpetrator does not cause harm in the future. Too many times I see people look on — or even laugh — while their friends are “coming on too strong” in the middle of a party. While you may not be directly responsible for sexual misconduct occurring, you are partially responsible if you see sexual misconduct happening and ignore it.

I am particularly talking about situations in which a perpetrator is drunk and not necessarily aware of their actions or the harm that they are causing. These situations are especially important considering that approximately half of all sexual assaults nationwide involve alcohol consumption. One study found that, depending on the sample size, anywhere between 34 and 74 percent of perpetrators were intoxicated at the time of the assault.

Alcohol consumption absolutely does not excuse assault. However, it seems that in cases of intoxication, intervention can be effective in preventing harm. Potential perpetrators who are drunk may not be aware of their actions or the impact of their actions in the moment, and many might not have taken those actions if they were sober.

As a student and a friend, you should want to protect other students from harm and to stop your friends from harming others. If you see someone you know in a position where they might harm another person, you are obligated to intervene in some way. If they are sober enough, talk to them and explain how their actions are harmful or have the potential to lead to harmful behavior. If they are not sober enough, distract them, ask them to go to the bathroom with you, or physically pull them away if you have to.

To a certain extent, I believe I feel safer here than I would at a different university; the amount of times I have seen students intervene on behalf of potential victims — even when they don’t know each other — is reassuring. However, as a student body, we have to take the next step in preventing sexual assault. It is not enough to just make sure that our friends are safe. When possible, we must make sure potential perpetrators do not commit sexual misconduct. This will be a focus of the Title IX office, the Sexual Information Center, and PRSM workshops this year, so it is imperative that all students actively engage with these programs to learn how to effectively protect fellow students.

Intervening in situations involving sexual misconduct — when we feel safe enough to do so — is not an option. It is an obligation we all have as members of the Oberlin College community. The best way to do this is by making sure we stop the perpetrators before they can commit any harm.