Last Wednesday Voices Against Violence hosted the ninth annual Take Back The Night event. The purpose of this event is to spread awareness and celebrate victims and survivors of sexual assault. However, UT has struggled in the past with sexual assault crimes within the UT campus and surrounding areas. In the most recent survey UT found that 15 percent of women have been rape victims and 28 percent of women have been victims of unwanted sexual touching, although only six percent of women reported it to UT. Nevertheless, these findings demonstrate that sexual assault is often perpetrated by people the victim know well – and our unwillingness to discuss and educate people about rape culture means that they often aren’t aware of it. In 2015 the UT School of Social Work found that 2 in 5 women were sexually assaulted and 91 percent of sexual assault victims do not report the crime. Interestingly though UT also found that about 38 percent of women older than 18 report the perpetrator as having a close relationship with them, including dating partner, spouse, family friend and relative.
In general, UT found women are more likely to be sexually assaulted throughout their life by someone they have a close relationship with (about 52.2 percent). This starkly contrasts with men in which only 29 percent are sexually assaulted throughout their life by someone they have a close relationship with. These large differences are associated with rape culture, in which male aggression and sexual violence are supported.
More specifically rape culture normalizes male sexual aggression. Visibility in popular culture, such as movies and television that objectify women, encourages sexually aggressive culture. Additionally offhanded humor that revolves around sexual aggression and rape further supports aggressively charged sexual culture that not only blames the victims, but also removes the sense of urgency and recognition of sexual assault as a problem.
More artfully depicted in the popular HBO series “Big Little Lies,” rape culture doesn’t just involve the actual crime of rape. In fact, sexual assault is more broadly defined by the U.S. government as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without explicit consent of the recepient”. However in the state of Texas sexual assault which is defined as “The act is considered to have been without the victim’s consent if physical violence was threatened or used in order to get the victim to submit or participate to the defendant’s actions,” emphasizes physical abuse over emotional coercion.
In this deprived legal definition Texas has allowed a safe haven for sexual assault perpetrators who use emotional coercion to manipulate their victim into performing sexual acts. For example, women pressured into having sex by their partner is not often seen as sexual assault, especially considering the male aggressive complex that surrounds cis-gendered relationships. But it is.
Repeatedly asking your partner to have sex and acting aggressively upset or “disappointed” is sexual assault and is not okay. Yet oftentimes women stay in these emotionally abusive relationships because they are only taught that rape is physically sexual assault. This is particularly harmful to younger women, between the ages of 14 and 18, who engage in their first relationships, sexual or otherwise, within this time frame.
The blurred lines between rape and sexual assault allow women to question when they are being sexually abused or taken advantage. Inadequate education and an unsupportive rape culture climate significantly contribute to this lack of understanding and increase the risk that a women will be sexually assaulted without even knowing.
Kandra is a chemistry and economics sophomore from San Antonio. Follow her on Twitter @joriskywalker.