College campuses are not typically associated with violence and crime. As a 19-year-old woman, however, I am constantly reminded of the potential threat of assault. Women of my generation have been told several different ways we can prevent ourselves from “getting raped.” Teachers, mentors and parents have expressed the responsibility we hold to maintain our safety. We’ve been instructed to dress modestly, monitor our alcohol consumption — or not drink at all — and limit our flirtation with men. We are told that by following these precautions, we will not be raped.

However, despite these messages being spread more frequently, the number of rapes reported on college campuses continue to rise. The U.S. Department of Justice estimated that one in five women will be a victim of sexual assault over the course of a college career according to “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action.” I have recently finished my first semester at Fairfield University. At this rate, 480 of my female peers will be sexually assaulted before graduation. In order to decrease these numbers, we must transform the precautionary messages spread about rape. Rather than placing the responsibility on women, I am suggesting we further educate men on consent and bystander intervention. I believe redefining the way young people are educated on the prevention of sexual assault will be more effective in keeping college students safe.

One in 12 college-age men admit to having committed the legal definition of rape or attempted rape, yet most of these men do not identify themselves as rapists, according to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center. In 2013, the FBI released a new summary of the legal definition of rape which is “Penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.” College students are often not educated on the meaning of consent.

Consent is verbal permission from the opposing party to engage in any sexual activity. Consent is not the “she didn’t exactly say no” or “she seemed like she wanted it” excuses that many students justify themselves with. Consent is saying “yes.” Anything short of that response is where the line between drunken partying and sexual assault is crossed. Too often, victims of assault are asked what they did to stop the event. However, sexual assault is an act of the perpetrator, not the victim.  Educating students on consent would help to end the excuses of body language and lack of communication as reasons for unwanted sexual activity. In order to decrease the number of assaults on campus, colleges need to promote the idea of giving and receiving consent.

There are several anti-sexual violence groups that focus on ending victimization, whereas others focus on stopping perpetration. Although both hold a common goal – to create safer communities – most of the important work in both approaches takes place after someone has been assaulted. Bystander intervention approaches, however, offer an opportunity to address questionable behavior before it becomes a case of sexual violence. Vassar College’s Sexual Assault and Violence Protection department’s website offers four techniques, the 4 D’s, to intervene in a potentially harmful situation: Direct, Distract, Delegate and Delay.

The “direct” method suggests stepping in and addressing the situation verbally, usually in situations where one knows the perpetrator personally. The “distract” method encourages bystanders to distract the people in the given situation by asking questions such as “Hey, aren’t you in my Spanish class?” or “Where are you rooming this year?” The “delegate” method entails bystanders teaming up with other people to help split up or distract those in potential danger. Vassar’s final method is the “delay” method. This method suggests pulling the person in need aside or texting them to ask if they are all right. Stapleton’s and Vassar College’s methods are simplistic in nature, yet still help to stop potentially harmful situations before they take place. Encouraging students to act when they witness potentially threatening situations would create overall safer campuses. U.S. colleges should be teaching both male and female students how to intervene safely and effectively in cases of sexual violence.

Recently, cases of sexual violence on college campuses have been publicized in the news more than ever. We shudder at the thought of the recent possible gang rape at University of Virginia. We cringe when we remember the young woman at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, who found her friend bent over a pool table as a football player assaulted her with several of his friends watching and laughing. Our hearts ache when we think of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia University student who has taken a pledge to carry around the mattress she was raped on each day until her assailant is expelled.

Despite these cases, however, college students are still taught the same outdated methods for sexual assault prevention they were taught years ago.  Jessica Valenti explained the irony of these prevention “techniques” when she said, “Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.”

Rather than telling women how to dress and what to (or not to) drink, we need to implement programs on college campuses to educate both male and female students on the importance of consent and bystander prevention. By redefining sexual assault prevention education, we can create safer and healthier environments for students and move forward in the fight to end sexual violence on college campuses.

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