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Mitra '18: The real rape capital

Never drop your guard. Never wear revealing clothes. And never, ever venture out at night. These are just some of the lessons I learned as a teenage girl in India. Since 2012, India has become notorious for violence against women — and with good reason. Indian women are subjected to a range of indignities on a daily basis: stares, catcalls, groping and rape. It goes without saying that I never felt safe there.

On my frequent visits to India, I was painfully aware that I could never completely relax outside, that my movements were constrained by insecurity and fear. After the explosive Nirbhaya case of 2012, in which a young woman was brutally gang-raped in Delhi, I decided enough was enough. I promised myself I would never live in a place so unsafe for women. I didn’t think that would be a difficult vow to keep: According to the United Nations Crime Trends Survey of 2010, India had the third-highest incidence of reported rape in the world. How much more dangerous could it get?

When I decided to study in the United States, I remember noticing the high rates of campus sexual assault in comparison with other countries. But as I visited campuses, they seemed so peaceful, inclusive and safe. I’d always associated sexual assault with dark alleyways and brutish perpetrators; it seemed absurd to think that intelligent, driven students at colleges like Brown could commit such heinous crimes. Well, I was in for a rude awakening.

Last week, the results of the Association of American Universities survey on sexual assault were released. In a campus-wide email, President Christina Paxson P’19 announced the results and plans to discuss future steps. The numbers are shocking: At Brown, one in four undergraduate women and approximately one in 15 undergraduate men have faced some form of sexual violence. Undergraduates identifying as TGQN — transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, questioning or non-listed — also reported even higher levels of assault. Most of the incidents went unreported.

The AAU survey spans 27 universities, and most show comparable results. Overall, 11.7 percent of the surveyed students reported having experienced nonconsensual sexual contact. That’s over one in 10 students. Let’s just take a moment to reflect on the fact that sexual assault is now the most common violent crime on university campuses.  If that isn’t downright horrifying, I don’t know what is.

Of course, as several articles have pointed out in the past week, the results of the survey may well be skewed. The response rate of the survey was only 19.3 percent, so we can’t consider it a definitive or accurate study of campus assault. Yet we also should not discount the findings. Out of approximately 150,000 respondents, over 17,000 indicated they had experienced assault or unwanted touching. That is over 17,000 too many. The numbers are too high to ignore, and they point to one thing: College campuses have some of the highest sexual assault rates in the country. And the national sexual assault statistics aren’t encouraging in the first place.

Remember how India — one of the supposed “rape capitals” of the world — had the third highest incidence of rape in the world? Well, which country do you think ranked first? Yes, you guessed it: the United States. As Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen points out in a 2013 article in the New York Review of Books, the incidence of rape in India is 1.8 per 100,000 women; in the United States, that figure is 27.3. Admittedly, India’s figure suffers from underreporting, but Sen argues that even if it were 10 times higher, it would still be considerably smaller than that of the United States. In this country, there is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes. I’m not arguing that the United States is more dangerous than India in terms of sexual violence — I don’t have enough information to make that kind of judgment. But based purely on the numbers, I seem to have jumped out of the metaphorical frying pan and into the fire.

There has been a lot of debate as to whether a rape culture exists on college campuses. I don’t want to argue that the problem is only societal: as a growing number of activists have argued, this view detracts from the responsibility of the individual perpetrators. But at the same time, it is obvious that there are overarching, systemic failures in campus safety. The figures are simply too staggering to believe otherwise.

The results of this survey underscore the need for substantial administrative change. The Sexual Assault Task Force did some laudable work drafting recommendations to address the issue. Its recommendations help survivors and raise awareness about sexual assault on campus. Now it is imperative for the University — and the administrations of the 26 other universities surveyed — to build on this work. The statistics were distressing, but they can also serve as a call to action. Brown administrators have already taken steps forward by implementing many of the task force’s recommendations, but there remains more to be done to protect students.

Mili Mitra ’18 hopes Brown will improve its sexual assault policies.


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