A year ago, three Duke lacrosse players were charged with rape. Like many people, I thought that if the allegations were true, then I wanted justice served, but I would rather have the allegations be false and know that a rape did not occur. Yet the media always seemed willing to pass judgment on the case, turning many people’s wishful thinking into a belief that such allegations are usually untrue. This belief is absolutely false; it is a rape myth that sadly has been reinforced by how we as a society have responded to the Duke case.
“Rape myth” is the term used to describe popular misconceptions about rape, such as the belief that women falsely accuse men of rape all the time. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than nine out of 10 times the accuser is telling the truth. And these are just reported cases of rape, which is the most under-reported crime in America. Why is it under-reported? Sexual-assault survivors are scrutinized by friends and family, judges and juries, their college and their community, all passing judgment on what really happened, all of them believing what they think to be true. It is extremely difficult for survivors to come forward. Unless a sexual assault actually occurred, a false accusation is not worth that kind of scrutiny. If we better understood the facts about rape, we would not be so dismissive in response to the Duke case.
Last week, all charges were dropped and the North Carolina attorney general declared the three Duke lacrosse players not guilty. But as much as I want them to be innocent, I still don’t know the truth; except for the players and their accuser, no one does. All I know is that statistics and stories mean more to me than vindications and verdicts; they help ground my beliefs. I believe the statistic that at least 92 rapes occur at Yale every year. I believe the story of a sobbing friend who came to me for help. I believe the shirts that hung across Cross Campus last week, calling for survivors to take back the night.
The outcome in the Duke case has no bearing on how I understand rape on college campuses across the country. It is a misunderstood crime that is more prevalent than people think. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, one in four college women will have survived sexual assault or an attempted assault before graduating. Whether you realize it or not, you know many people who have been raped. For their sake, for survivors yet to come forward and those who have, and for loved ones whom we would want to save from knowing this kind of pain — we need to end rape myths in our society and stop rape itself.
A movement taking place on college campuses across the country is aiming to promote awareness about sexual assault in order to end it. It faces many obstacles, of which rape myths are one. The Duke case has set the movement back nationally. At Yale, it is really difficult to talk about sexual assault; here, the statistic “one in four” typically refers to the number of gays on campus instead of the number of sexual assault survivors across the country.
Yet there are groups at Yale dedicated to ending rape on campus. Last week, Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention held Take Back the Night, calling for the campus to come together and support survivors of sexual assault. This week, Yale Men Against Rape is giving its presentation on what you can do to help a friend who has been raped. If someone asked you for help, would you be able to respond with an awareness of the issue and the resources available on campus for your friend’s recovery?
The only way to end rape is to understand it. Please take the time to educate yourself on this issue.
Ryan Villanueva is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. He is a member of Yale Men Against Rape.