Written by Janet Wang
Over the past few years, Bay Area colleges have faced an influx of attention over the increase of campus rape cases. According to the United States Department of Education, in 2014 alone, 26 rape cases were reported at Stanford, 15 at University of California, Berkeley, five at San Francisco State University and two at San Jose State University. These cases have shown an increase from years past.
The Palo Alto Unified School District has had its own share of sexual misconduct cases in the past. One such case occurred at the end of the 2015-2016 school year where Palo Alto High School science teacher Ronnie Farrell was arrested for child molestation, sexual battery and communicating and meeting with a minor with the intent to commit a sex crime.
In 2016, the local Brock Turner case made national headlines and spurred outrage in the community. Community members like Stanford law professor Michele Dauber took action by creating a petition to recall Persky and protesting at a rally against Persky’s ruling.
Although Turner was prosecuted, only 34 percent of rape cases are reported to the police, and of those, three percent of perpetrators serve time in jail, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. Because of the negligence in prosecuting perpetrators in rape cases, sexual assault prevention organizations coined the term “rape culture,” created in the 1970s to show how society objectifies women and normalizes sexual violence and victim-blaming.
Thee issue of rape culture proves to be pertinent topic in the upcoming presidential election. Hillary Clinton has faced criticism for her role in the 1975 Kathy Shelton rape case as the defense attorney for Thomas Taylor, the 41-year-old accused of raping 12-year-old Shelton. On Aug. 9, Shelton publicly revealed herself as the victim in the case, and in interview with The Daily Mail, recalled that Clinton requested that Shelton undergo psychiatric evaluation to ensure that she was not fabricating a story.
Throughout the election, Republican Party presidential nominee Donald Trump has been criticized for making offensive comments about sexual assault and hypersexualizing women. Trump has made comments about trying to have sex with multiple women, including journalist Nancy O’Dell in a leaked video from 2005. He made statements such as “grab ‘em by the p***y” because “when you’re a star, they let you do it.” Since then, Trump has characterized his behavior as merely “locker-room talk.”
Junior Byron Asch says that these comments should not be normalized as “locker-room talk” in society. “I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms in my life, and that’s not what we talk about,” he said. “Although that’s not what a lot of men do in locker rooms and it’s not what a lot of men like to admit to, there is a joking nature about sexual assault, and that’s not a joke at all.”
Junior Anton Lee believes that, though his actions are not justified, Trump’s comments should not get as much coverage. “The attention that Trump gets for these things is a bit ridiculous,” he said. “People know that the things that he is saying are wrong.”
However, the normalization of sexually aggressive comments made by Trump are a dangerous influence to today’s youth, Author of “Warning Signs: How to Protect Your Kids from Becoming Victims or Perpetrators of Violence and Aggression” and retired physician Laurie Berdahl says. Berdahl believes the president should serve as a positive and inspiring role model for youth. “When sexual aggression is bragged about or condoned or promoted by a public figure like a presidential candidate, it makes it seem normal and acceptable,” she said. “This will set back any attempts to educate our youth to understand that this is not healthy or normal behavior and it can lead to not only harm for the victim but also the perpetrators in terms of criminal record and loss of stature and not knowing how to have a healthy relationship with a partner.”
For Asch, sexual assault can become openly discussed and prevented if kids are educated from a young age about it. “You have to teach from a very early age in elementary school, if boys are messing with girls and to stop saying that, ‘Oh, he just likes you, it’s fine,’” he said. To accomplish this, young boys and girls need to respect other people and their bodies, Asch says.
Though students discuss rape in the mandatory semester-long course Living Skills, information is limited. McKeown says that open dialogue needs to be consistent, especially throughout high school. “Before you go to college, you learn how to set up a dorm room and you learn how to set up a meal and get your textbooks,” she said. “It’s a reasonable expectation to also learn how to have safe, consensual sex before you go into an environment where you are supposed to act like an emotionally mature adult.”
In addition, according to Lieutenant James Reifschneider, who has had 12 years of experience at the Palo Alto Police Department and three years supervising the sex crimes unit, it is important for teens to look out for each other and trust their instincts to avoid being victimized in a sex crime. “One of the things that I tell people of all ages is that you were gi ed the instinct to feel if something is not right and frequently, we choose to ignore those instincts because maybe we’re afraid of o ending somebody,” he said. “If you see your friend doing something that is not smart or putting themselves in a potentially vulnerable situation, then as a good friend, you need to intervene.”
Junior Zoe McKeown says that rape culture continues to be a prevalent issue for everyone. “I think rape culture affects everyone, whether they are female, male, gender non-conforming, transgender, nonbinary and more,” she said. “No matter where you are in the United States, no matter how liberal or politically correct you are, it will find you and it stores itself in these little microaggressions that we see around us.”
According to McKeown, these sexual assault microaggressions are found in rape myths and dress codes that hypersexualize women. Oftentimes, the media depicts rape cases as revolving around the storyline of a woman who goes out to party and is sexually assaulted based on the type of revealing clothing she is wearing, McKeown said.
Berdahl agrees that women are often overly objectified. “Objectification of women is making them appear or believing that they are not whole people with feelings, thoughts, talents and worth except as body parts or as physical objects of attraction to be used for sexual purposes,” she said. “When you rate a woman based on her body type or parts and you talk about her breasts or weight and attractiveness, you are discounting the fact that she is a human being.”
Additionally, Asch says that rape culture is also perpetuated by social stigmas and gender norms. “If you don’t have experience with someone who has been sexually assaulted or raped, you don’t really necessarily understand the gravity of the situation and there is a lot of joking about it,” he said. “If a man is to tell his friends that, ‘Hey man, I was sexually assaulted,’ generally, they’re not going to be taken very seriously.”
Ultimately, McKeown hopes to break the stigma surrounding rape and instead establish a society where sexual assault victims are cared for and supported. “Whether it be one in five women or one in 52 women, I don’t care what the statistic is—that’s one too many,” she said. “ e more compassion that we can cultivate in society, the more understanding we have, and the less cases of sexual assault and rape will happen.”