Sexual Violence is an Equity Issue

Scholar-activist Dr Chris Linder is Assistant Professor of College Student Affairs Administration at the University of Georgia. She has vast experience as a student affairs educator, and her recent book Sexual Violence on Campus: Power-Conscious Approaches to Awareness, Prevention, and Response was published by Emerald in May 2018. In this blog, she offers strategies for administrators and educators to help address sexual violence more effectively.

To more effectively address sexual violence, educators and administrators must consider sexual violence an equity issue rooted in issues of power, oppression, and privilege, rather than solely seeing it as a public health issue.  The historical roots of sexual violence as a tool of domination, colonization, and economic control illuminate the ways sexual violence continues to thrive on college campuses today.  By referring to campus sexual violence as a “national epidemic,” researchers, journalists, and activists disassociate campus sexual violence from larger systems of power, privilege, and oppression. Epidemic implies a “short-term, isolated problem”(Deer, 2015, p. ix) and does not take into account how sexual violence has remained a constant form of power and control throughout history.

Although helping people – students, parents, faculty, staff, and policymakers, among others – understand the relationship between power and sexual violence is complicated, failing to do so is unethical.  Rates of sexual violence on college campuses have not changed in over 60 years, meaning that current practices are not effective.  Further, given that perpetrators of sexual violence target those in minoritized communities at higher rates than their dominant group peers, considering sexual violence a manifestation of power, dominance, and oppression may not be so difficult to understand and present.

Although every campus has unique dynamics requiring specific interventions on that campus, here I offer three specific strategies for administrators who want to more effectively address sexual violence from a power-conscious lens:

  1. Design interventions to more effectively intervene with perpetrators and potential perpetrators. As college and university administrators and educators, we have a responsibility to more effectively intervene and stop perpetrators from causing harm, rather than just removing them from our campuses and pushing them into another community to continue causing harm.  Although our knowledge on campus perpetrators is limited, some evidence points to the reality that many campus perpetrators do not understand their problematic behavior as an act of power and control.  Designing workshops, programs, and one-on-one interventions to engage perpetrators and potential perpetrators around their harmful behaviors requires us to move away from the bad guy vs. good guy mentality and consider that many people have been socialized to believe that they are entitled to take what they want from other people through coercion, violence, and manipulation.  Effective interventions address this behavior and mentality and stop it from continuing, rather than just removing or ousting this person from a community.
  2. Provide accurate information to students and parents about the dynamics of sexual violence on campus. Most students have been socialized to think of sexual violence as someone jumping out of the bushes and attacking an unsuspecting woman walking alone at night.  The vast majority of sexual violence on college campuses happens between two people who know each other and who engage in some consensual romantic behaviors.  All the mace, self-defense courses, and tasers in the world likely would not do much to eradicate this kind of violence.  Most people would not use self-defense tactics when engaged with people they have a relationship with.  Further, misperceptions of the dynamics of sexual violence may contribute to increased risk of violence because we teach students to be “afraid” or “on guard” with strangers, but not with people they know or consider friends or acquaintances, making it easier for perpetrators to cause harm to people who have not considered that violence may be perpetrated by someone they know.
  3. Design identity-specific educational programs. Perpetrators target people with minoritized identities at higher rates than their dominant group peers.  For example, bisexual women, gay men, women of color, students with disabilities, and trans and gender non-conforming people all experience higher rates of sexual violence than their white, cisgender, heterosexual non-disabled peers. Despite this reality, most education and awareness programs fail to account for the unique dynamics of violence outside of a heterosexual, cisgender man and woman who have consumed alcohol.  When educational programs do attempt to account for additional identities in their programs, they often just change the visible identities of the people involved in the educational scenario, but leave the dynamics the same.  Although representation matters, so does accuracy – the dynamics of sexual violence and the role of power look different among different groups of people and should be accounted for in educational programs.

Usually, when I offer suggestions like these, one of the first questions I get is, “Do you know of campuses who are doing this?” or “Who is doing this already?” Although there likely are people across the country attempting to implement programs like these, the reality is most of these strategies have not been deemed “best practices” by any organizations yet.  I struggle with the framework of the question of “who is doing this” for a few reasons, but the biggest one is that we seem to be lacking institutional courage – the willingness to be the first ones to try something that hasn’t been tried before.

To more effectively address sexual violence, educators and administrators must embrace their courage: courage to speak truth to power, to try new and innovative approaches, to be bold and different, to take risks, and to embrace the complexity and nuance that challenging power has always required.  There are people working on most of our campuses who have lots of ideas about how to more effectively intervene with perpetrators, how to design accurate, identity-specific educational programs, and do lots of critical, radical work to more effectively address sexual violence.  Student activists, especially those with minoritized identities; educators working in identity-based offices; and ethnic studies and women’s studies faculty who study and live dynamics of power, privilege, and oppression every day know how to address oppression.  We must listen.   We must consider a new paradigm.  Who are the equity experts in your community and how will you engage, support, and listen to them when it comes to addressing sexual violence?

Citations

Deer, S. (2015). The beginning and the end of rape: Confronting sexual violence in Native America.  Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Want to find out more? Listen to our podcast, in which Chris Linder talks with academics and practitioners Susan Marine, Niah Grimes and Marvette Lacy about the importance addressing sexual violence.  

Article Details
Author:

Dr Chris Linder,
Assistant Professor of College Student Affairs Administration, University of Georgia

Date Published:

June 14th, 2018

Would you like to contribute to our Real Impact blog? Find out how.

Recent News & Blogs

- Discover impact news from across the globe

Autism and Technology: Placing autistic people at the centre of research (or how we can move closer to this)

Nigel Newbutt - Education, Health

The field of autism and technology, or put another way technology used to help support autistic groups and individuals, is a field that has existed for over 40 years.  Over this period of time the field of research has grown and diversified in many ways.  Researchers first started looking at multimedia applications in the 1970’s

Read Article

Why do Cities Matter in Sustainable Development Discourse?

Maha Al-Zu'bi, Vesela Radovic - Business Innovation, Culture, Environment

As current projections indicate that the majority of the world’s future population will live in urban areas, cities play a central role in the pursuit of sustainable development. This recognition materialized through the inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 (in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development): “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient

Read Article

Looking backward to move forward for real-world socio-economic impact

Riad Shams

Dr. Riad Shams is a Senior Research Fellow at the Ural Federal University, Russia. Dr. Shams has discussed here how looking back on the historical perspectives in business and management research and practice can be instrumental to proactively and profoundly move forward, in terms of prolifically dealing with the contemporary real-life socio-economic challenges. To advance business

Read Article

We are using cookies to give you the best experience on our website.
You can find out more about which cookies we are using or switch them off in .

Emerald Publishing Logo

Privacy Overview

This website uses cookies so that we can provide you with the best user experience possible. Cookie information is stored in your browser and performs functions such as recognising you when you return to our website and helping our team to understand which sections of the website you find most interesting and useful.

You can adjust all of your cookie settings by navigating the tabs below.

Strictly Necessary Cookies

Strictly Necessary Cookies should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings and ensure that the website works correctly, for example logging into the website.

If you disable these cookies, we will not be able to save your preferences and you may not be able to log in to the website. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.

3rd Party Cookies

This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site, and the most popular pages.

Keeping this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.

Privacy and information

You can find further information about our privacy and cookie policy in our Privacy and information section

To enjoy the full experience of our website please .