No Means Yes: Rape Culture and Institutions of Power

Written by Nelli Naukkarinen

TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of sexual violence

In October 2010 the famous Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity of the University of Yale, with very famous alumni such as 5 former U.S.A presidents, four vice presidents and numerous famous businessmen, politicians and influential figures, was banned for a period of 5 years after pledges we’re recorded yelling “no means yes, yes means anal” to female students on campus. The incident is just one of many revolting but common occurrences of sexual misconduct and harassment faced by students on university campuses. College-aged women are at a higher risk of sexual harassment and assault than other age groups women, with students being 3 times more likely to experience assault and harassment, and women not studying 4 times likelier. 13% of all students experience some form of sexual assault, ranging from physical force, sexual violence and incapacitation. 9.7% of graduate and professional students and 2.5% report experiences of assault and amongst undergraduates, 26.4% and 6.8% of male students experience rape or sexual assault. 5.8% report experiencing stalking. Sexual harassment and assault is the most common form of crime that happens on university campuses and often is not reported to the authorities. 

There are many explanations for why sexual harassment and misconduct are so common on university campuses, ranging from lack of safety nets to it being one of the first times in people’s lives they are living alone or not at home. However, what is often lacking in the conversation about sexual violence in universities, is how rape culture has created an environment where instead of focusing on the reduction of victimization or trying to end the issue of sexual misconduct, the conversation is often directed elsewhere, with universities describing the incidents as one time occurrences or dismissing the experiences of victims. It is no new occurrence that institutions try to cover the occurrence of sexual miss conduct. Multiple universities across the world, ranging from some of the top schools in the entire world such as Harvard and Yale, have been involved in belittling and covering cases of sexual harassment and misconduct. Victims often when they come forward, describe the lack of support and belief they receive from their universities. Emma Sulkowicz or “mattress girl” as she is famously known, described her experience after being raped in her dorm room by another student, being dismissed and not believed by her university. After an enquiry conducted by the university found her rapist not guilty, and regardless of the fact that other victims came forward to discuss the rape and physical and emotional violence subjected to them by the rapist, many still doubt Emma and the other’s stories. Erica Kisman described her experience of being raped by then college football star Jameis Winston and the wide attempt of the university to cover up her story. Describing her experience in the documentary hunting ground, how under false pretence he helped her to get away from another harasser, spiked her and raped her. When she got a rape kit done on her, she was told by the police officer taking her case and former university alumni to think twice about reporting. Police were slow to take action on her case, and when they did take action, she was faced with skepticism, disbelief, threats and victim-blaming. When the case went public, she received more victim-blaming, outright hate, and disbelief and when her identity was relieved to the public, her family home was burned down. The investigation on Kisman by the university found no wrongdoing and allowed him to continue to play in the season playoffs. Many football fans defended Kisman such as Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith who said the timing of the investigation was unfair and “stinks”, referring to the fact that the investigation was happening during the lead up to game season. Comments such as really showcase, how the blame and responsibility of what happens to victims of sexual crimes really fall on the victim, and how often the victimizer is shown more sympathy and understanding than the victim, phonemon we don’t really see in any other violent crime. It is quite rare to see someone saying the timing of a murder investigation stinks. 

Regardless of the university’s reasoning, they partake in protecting and upkeeping the culture of victim blaming and belittling experiences of sexual abuse. There is no other way to say it, and universities should not be allowed to point at tomato and call it carrot. As much as any other institution of power, universities need to be held accountable for the role they hold in upkeeping the culture of sexual violence. While universities can say they have codes of conduct, behaviour rules and that they have zero tolerance for this type of behaviour, actions speak louder than words and there has been countless examples of universities covering up instances of sexual violence. And while yes universities and other institutions of power can argue, it is difficult to discuss these issues or provide safety and support for victims when victims do not want to come forward. While yes sexual violence is the least reported crime, reflection to why people do not want to or do not feel to report such violence should take place, as if it is well known that university campuses are “hunting” grounds for sexual predators, that should say something about the existing safety mechanisms and the culture in the university, rather than about the victims. Pushing the conversation to we cannot do anything as no one told us there is an issue, is deflecting and victim blaming, and showcases the enviroment is not one where people feel comfortable coming forward as they know they will be faced with such attitudes and rhetoric. There is no excuse to justify violence. Victimizing someone is a crime, and the double standard that is placed on sexual crimes showcases, how many people still feel entitled to sex and sexual pleasure, regardless of what the other person wants. No one owns the other person sex or sexual pleasure. Consent can be withdrawn at any point. No means no and is not upto discussion. As much as we wouldn’t force someone who didn’t want to have a cup of tea to have some as the other person wants one, we shouldn’t push anyone to partake in sexual acts if they so don’t want to. 

Edited by Karolina Hajna, artwork by Olga Churilina