By: Suzette Walden-Cole

Trigger Warning: This post contains content related to sexual misconduct and assault on campus. It could result in an individual finding themselves reacting physically, emotionally, or otherwise. If you need assistance and are in the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

Do we recognize sexual misconduct when it occurs? Are we prepared to call one another out when we hear or see it in action? What if it is directed at you, or someone you know by a faculty or staff member on campus, or in the community?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20.4 million students were enrolled in American colleges and universities in 2017. As many are expected to return to campuses, with the inclusion of new students. Whether public, private, ivy-league, historically Black, or Predominately White, our campuses are all expected to tackle the topic of Title IX and sexual assault awareness for new students to be in compliance with federal mandates. As a result, many campuses have turned to online education to satisfy the requirement of providing this education. The problem is that many of these programs only address sexual assault. This can leave a wide gap with respect to some of the more common areas of misconduct occurring on campuses-recording sexual activity on video or through photos without consent of the parties engaged in the act(s); sharing the videos/photographs with others; public displays of nudity; sending unwanted, unsolicited photos/videos in the hopes of cultivating a prospective partner. We can and need to do better in how we approach comprehensive education in the realm of sexual assault and misconduct. As we prepare for another academic year, let’s reflect on a few things.

“The Red Zone” – no, I’m not talking about the NFL.

The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network indicates that more than 50 percent of sexual assaults occur in the timeframe from when a student sets foot on campus in the fall term through Thanksgiving break. There has been significant speculation regarding “why” this happens. Some indicate that it is because new students do not know what to look for and are overly trusting as they meet new people. Many students find themselves experimenting with alcohol for the first time as they are establishing new connections on campus.

Additionally, American culture has us believe in “stranger danger” when it comes to sexual assault. Growing up watching Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, many of us are socialized to believe that we must worry about back alleys and dimly lit spaces when we’re walking to and from places. So, we let our guard down when we’re around the people that we know at parties, in residence halls, or other areas. We assume that if they attend the event we’re attending, then someone must know them. As new students share their identities with one another, there are those individuals who can also take advantage of these situations.

This false sense of security can help explain the reality that 80-90% of sexual assaults are committed by individuals known to the person. In many instances, victims/survivors who report sexual assaults did not immediately label the incident as such until after talking with friends or attending a prevention training (United Educators, 2015).

Predators know who to target, even when they aren’t who we would picture.

According to the 2015 AAU Study, 33.1% of senior females and 39.1% of seniors identifying as TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, and nonconforming) report being a victim of nonconsensual sexual contact at least once. The same study revealed 5.4% of male undergraduate students experienced nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation since entering college. Students who identify as LGBQIAA+ but are not “out” can be assaulted by individuals under the auspices that it will go unreported because the victim/survivor may need to “out” themselves to report what happened. Additionally, serial rapists or predators on campus, bank on the fact that the victim/survivor will not remember their name and be unable to report the incident. It is important that we recognize a potential predator.

Many times, a predator will utilize the same three step process:

Step 1. Befriend the potential victim. The predator will strike up a conversation and take great interest in you. This is especially important for new students to recognize, as they are eager to meet people and predators know that is true. So, at a party, if someone gets close to you and is overly complimentary, think first before you share too much with them.

Step 2. Isolate the potential victim from the group. Predators know that they have greater success if they can isolate you from the group you are with when you arrive at the party, or location. This can sometimes be subtle, like saying, “Let’s go some place quieter to get to know one another better.” Be guarded as you encounter new people even in a familiar space. If you are interested in the person sexually, then feel free to proceed with caution. However, if you are not interested, then be clear, say no, and get back to your squad or group.

Step 3. Plies the potential victim with alcohol. This is a key trick of the trade for predators. They will use alcohol or other drugs to render their potential victim incapacitated. These types of individuals may select parties where there is a common source, or signature party punch, to gain access to individuals by “spiking”, or drugging the punch.

In many instances, it is not the person you would think who is committing these acts. Some predators will utilize membership in organizations to mask their behaviors and gain access to potential victims. In no way shape, or form, am I saying it is ever a victim’s/survivor’s fault for what happened to them. I am saying that colleges and universities need to ensure they are providing ongoing education to ensure that students area aware of potential risk factors.

There’s a fine line between “am-porn” and “revenge porn” – It’s a break-up!

Many students are sending nude selfies, or “nelfies”, and/or recording themselves engaged in sexual activities. Okay, Pumpkins, it is time for some real, truthful talk here. I have said this publicly that I never thought I would use the Kardashian family in an example; but, Blac Chyna and Rob taught us a great deal about this topic in summer of 2017.

First things first, I do not know when sending a “nelfie” using social media apps, or other messaging options, became like an “sneak preview” or “appetizer” for some folx; but, I want to be clear about this issue. Sending unwanted, unsolicited sexually explicit content whether photo, video, or message, can be considered sexual misconduct. So, be certain that you obtain consent prior to sending those messages or tagging folx to that content. Additionally, remember that consent is fluid, and can be withdrawn at any time. If a person says to stop sending me this type of message, you need to stop – no questions asked.

Next, you must obtain consent for all levels of exposure to the act. At a primary level, consent needs to be given for the sexual activity itself from all partner(s) involved in the act. If you are photographing or recording video/audio of the encounter(s), then all partner(s) involved in the act need to consent to the recording. If you plan to share the photos, or recordings, with others, then all partner(s) involved need to consent to the dissemination and/or distribution of the content. Failure to do so may result in sexual misconduct and/or other related charges at the university, state, and/or civil levels. Each jurisdiction has its own measure for what consent looks like in those instances-so, be sure you know before you go and do it.

Finally, if you disseminate or distribute from a place of rage or revenge following an argument or breakup, you may be subject to the laws related to revenge porn.

A couple items of caution related to the topic:

  1. You can never be assured of what someone will do with the photos and/or videos in their possession. Be clear and up front about what you are consenting to when you participate.
  2. Make sure that the person(s) involved are all of age to legally consent to sexual activity. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a position where you are facing child pornography charges. Remember, not everyone on campus or at associated events is “of age” just by association.

As I’ve traveled the country and spent time with students, they’ve expressed that these are some of the “grey zones” with which they struggle when it comes to the topics of sexual assault and misconduct. Colleges and universities can certainly do a better job of educating to these gaps. However, my hope is that we can all do a better job of educating ourselves, and one another to change the culture on college campuses. I encourage you to share this information in your organizations, with friends and family, and in classes. We can all do our part to end sexual violence. Don’t wait for an incident to happen on your campus, or to someone you know, for you to move to action. Be ready.

Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

For more information about Suzette Walden-Cole and her programs visit- http://campuspeak.com/speaker/suzette-walden-cole/