Fight date rape with a change in attitude

For the past two years, incoming freshmen have been required to attend a new orientation session called “Sex Signals.” Billed as a dating show, “Sex Signals” uses a blend of improvisational comedy, sketch humor and audience participation to explore the good, bad and ugly sides of the college dating scene. Two professionally trained actors who are also certified rape crisis counselors engage in a variety of scenes addressing sex-role stereotypes, dating and date rape. The last portion, which focuses on date rape, is clearly the emphasis of the show.

Given the prevalence of date rape on college campuses, I believe it was beneficial for the incoming freshmen to be made aware of the issue. Although many of us believe that rapes are committed by strangers who jump out of dark alleyways, in truth, nearly 80 percent of rapes nationwide are committed by acquaintances and friends. On college campuses, that statistic is even more astounding: 90 percent of rapes on college campuses occur between friends and acquaintances. Yale has chosen to tackle this problem and increase awareness amongst its student body with an engaging educational program.

While I commend the school for taking a proactive step to decrease the threat of date rape, I honestly believe increasing awareness will not solve the underlying problem that allows date rape to occur on campuses. “Sex Signals” itself stems from the underlying attitudes and beliefs many college students hold about sex and dating mores. I was upset after watching “Sex Signals” because the show sought to increase awareness of date rape rather than change students’ general attitudes toward sex and dating.

Date rape has become increasingly prevalent on college campuses because our current attitudes toward sex and dating condone it. It has become acceptable to engage in casual sex without really getting to know the person you are becoming physically intimate with. Stop and think for a moment. When was the last time you hooked up with someone you didn’t know particularly well? Was alcohol involved? Have you ever been on a date with this person or engaged in any sort of emotionally intimate act before engaging in a physically intimate act? While these questions seem a little silly, many of us are forced to admit that we have engaged in this type of risky behavior, which can easily lead to date rape.

In general, I see two trends in dating on the Yale campus. There are students who are engaged in serious, long-term relationships, and there are students who go out to parties and go home with the occasional sex partner. Unfortunately, there is a lot of casual sex and very little casual dating. No one really takes the time to get to know one another personally and develop true emotional intimacy before engaging in physically intimate acts. It is our permissive attitude toward this behavior that has allowed date rape to become a fairly common act on college campuses. I believe we will not be able to abolish its devastating effects until our general attitude on sex and dating changes.

The media and popular culture only perpetuate the college dating culture. We have a lot to fight back against in light of pieces such as Tom Wolfe’s recent novel “I Am Charlotte Simmons,” and David Brooks’ Atlantic Monthly article “The Organization Kid,” which caused a huge stir at Princeton after it was published in 2001. Although these pieces may seem a bit extreme, they are based partly on fact. These two men did extensive research at prestigious colleges across the country and chose to highlight some of the most extreme trends which appeared. Both quickly picked up on the prevalence of casual sex and the absence of traditional courtship behavior.

So how do we fight back? I’m not suggesting that we all stop having sex. This is a personal choice I can’t make for others. I do suggest that we all try and make a little more time for emotional intimacy, to get to know members of the opposite (or same) sex before engaging in sexual acts. In this way, we can successfully fight against the situations which lend themselves to date rape. When you know your partner, and your communication is open, there is much less room for ambiguity in the hook-up process. So what are you waiting for? Go ahead, ask that girl (or boy) in seminar out for a cup of coffee. You might be surprised what you get out of it.



Emma VanGenderen, a freshman counselor, is a senior in Branford College.

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