It’s On Us, CofC, to put an end to sexual assault on college campuses

We’ve heard the catch phrases over and over.

No Means No.

Rape is Rape.

Drunk is not Yes.

And while the messages are extremely important as well as very true, they also have one fundamental flaw – they either put the onus on victims to be able to get out of a bad situation, or they presume that attackers can control themselves after hearing a simple protest.

And while there is nothing inherently wrong with demanding such self-respect and self-responsibility, it is both naive and nearly impossible to achieve.

That’s why the prevention of sexual assault is not just on those involved, but on the rest of us too – as friends, as colleagues, even just as someone sitting at the bar overhearing a potential problem developing.

So here’s the new catch phrase – It’s On Us.

But it’s not just a catch phrase. It’s the truth.

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It is on all of us to prevent sexual assault and do it consistently in order to create a college campus free of sexual assault.

College of Charleston students should definitely be interested in this. The Post and Courier reported in 2013 that between 2008-2012, 13 sexual assaults were reported at CofC. And 10 of those involved alcohol, which is a common link in many sexual assaults on college campuses.

So often the two involved in a sexual assault are at a party or bar, they’re drunk (or at the very least uninhibited by alcohol), and what may easily seem like a consensual “hookup” can ultimately turn into a nonconsensual rape.

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“This campaign is all about sparking as many conversations as we can about how to end sexual assault on college campuses,” says Mayu Takeda, a regional organizer with Generation Progress, which is implementing the White House-backed It’s On Us campaign. “Ultimately, we want individuals to not be a bystander and step in if they see someone in a compromising situation.”

The It’s On Us effort launched first  in September 2014 as a specific message for college campuses, since that is the place it occurs most often. Each semester since, It’s On Us has implemented an action week on campuses.

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It’s On Us designated its first action week last year and is promoting its third this week (Nov. 8-14) in which it is encouraging its partner universities and organizations to hold events and push awareness.

College of Charleston senior communication students have designed several social media awareness campaigns targeting various student groups at CofC – from student-athletes to freshmen to members of fraternities and sororities. There’s even a specific target toward students who go out to local bars.

With various adaptations to the #ItsOnUs hashtag, these communication students hope to spread the word via pictures and videos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – #ItsOnUsGreekLife, #ItsOnUsCougars, #ItsOnUsKingStreet, #ItsOnUsFYE, #ItsOnUsCofC.

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“A big part of the national campaign is sharing the message with as many students as possible to let them know this problem is really on all of us,” said Laurie Lattimore-Volkmann, an adjunct communication professor at CofC. “So it is a perfect campaign for social media since so many students use social networks to share with each other what they’re doing, what they’re involved in and what they think.”

Students have created among other things a feature video to portray how students can make a difference just by stopping something before it starts.

And this video highlights support from local Charleston bars to help prevent a crime that happens more frequently when alcohol is involved.

One of the main “action” steps of the It’s On Us campaign is to encourage students to complete an online “pledge” stating that they will intervene when necessary to stop sexual assault from ever happening.

The CofC efforts include sharing pictures of all kinds of CofC students who are choosing to take the pledge and support the cause. These photos and videos are being shared through the class’ Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.

“We realize that the pledge is just a small step, but we hope this will lead schools and student groups to opening the conversation about this problem and having more organized events on campus to educate students about the issue of sexual assault.

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The statistics are staggering.

One in five women in college is sexually assaulted. And women are definitely not the only gender to be victims. One in 16 men experience it as well.

A sobering 80 percent of survivors knew the attacker, which may help explain why only 13 percent of survivors actually report the rape. And while there is the possibility that a person invents the assault, it has been shown that only between 2 and 7 percent of cases is actually false.

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And all of these statistics are part of an increasing problem, which has come more to light ever since colleges have been required to report in their campus crime statistics any reports of sexual assault.

So there’s obviously a problem.

Part of the question is whether a campaign asking students to take an online, relatively anonymous, pledge is enough to change a culture.

Isabella DeVincenzo, a senior at the College of Charleston, likes the campaign but isn’t sure it will go far enough.

“I like the slogan and idea of It’s On Us because it portrays exactly what they wanted it to – that everyone needs to get involved. Sexual assault isn’t just about the attacker and the victim, but the rest of the population to stand up and make a change,” she said. “However, I am curious to see how much of a difference this campaign will make long-term.”

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Fellow CofC senior Colby Chapman thinks this will make a difference but it will take a while and a lot of involvement from a lot of big names.

“I believe it’s possible to create a cultural shift in society, but I do not believe the It’s On Us campaign can do it alone,” Chapman said. “It would take a whole army of pop-culture enthusiasts to be able to halt non-consensual sex.”

The campaign does recognize this, says Takeda, which is why it employed a host of celebrities and major organizations, such as NCAA, EA Sports, MTV, VH-1 and others to get on board.

With the campaign launch, the White House aired a PSA featuring a dozen celebrities like John Hamm of Mad Men fame, Kevin Love from the Cleveland Cavaliers and musician Randy Jackson.

“We know the problem is bigger than just taking a pledge, but the fact that we are even able to have this conversation with all this celebrity support means a cultural shift is starting to happen,” Takeda says. “It’s on all of us to change the way we think about campus sexual assault.”

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