What’s love? In the days proceeding and succeeding Valentine’s Day, advertisements, books, movies and products mostly depicting heterosexual, white, monogamous couples bombard me. These images tell me that these relationships embody love — but do they?
Instead of lauding these picturesque relationships devoid of context, I think it’s time that we re-evaluate our interactions with our romantic or sexual partners, whether they’re monogamous, heterosexual or neither.
It’s clear that Yale’s sexual climate has room to improve; The University Semi-annual Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct released on Monday contained 78 complaints of sexual misconduct including assault, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence and stalking.
In the article “One Woman’s Quest to Fix the Process of Reporting Sexual Assault” published last year in Pacific Standard magazine, Kate Wheeling writes that the number of sexual assaults has not risen since the 1980s. According to the article, the rate of rape and attempted rape among women has consistently remained between one in four and one in five. This raises the question: Despite more awareness and efforts to combat sexual assault, why are these numbers plateauing instead of going down?
Many people decry “hookup culture” because they believe that it reinforces this cycle of sexual violence. However, the fact that some college students are willing to have noncommittal, consensual sex does not justify the prevalence of sexual assault. In the New York Magazine article, “Hooking Up Is Easy To Do: But pretty complicated,” Katie Van Syckle writes that, “To suggest that women may put themselves at risk by hooking up — by getting blackout drunk, by getting into bed with someone they do not know — is considered to be an offensive example of victim blaming.” To be sure, there are some feminist critiques of hookup culture; in the academic article “Sexism in Practice: Feminist Ethics Evaluating the Hookup Culture,” Conor Kelly writes that “hookup culture” is “troubling because the avoidance of relationships builds implicitly upon an autonomous understanding of the self and a devaluation of relationality.”
However, high rates of assault cannot be fully attributed to “hookup culture”; in fact, many college students aren’t even having consensual sex. A poll of nearly 700 college students taken by New York Magazine found that 40 percent of the respondents were virgins. Moreover, in another study of over 33,000 people in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that “millennials were likely to have had an average of about eight partners, while Boomers [the generation following World War II] were more likely to have had 10 or 11.”
In order to begin to address the issue of sexual assault, we need to stop constantly asking about students’ sex lives and start reforming the institutional process for reporting instances of assault. Yale has taken some steps in the right direction by creating committees and education programs to address issues concerning these problems on campus. In 2011, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and the Communication and Consent Educators program were created. It is important to make information about the process for reporting assault readily available via websites and pamphlets. Although Yale has resources available for survivors of sexual assault, there can be confusion over the degree of confidentiality that they will have.
According to the semi-annual report, Title IX coordinators will not compromise a complainant’s confidentiality except in cases of acute threat. In addition to ensuring that students have access to resources concerning sexual assault, we also need to ensure that administrators and law enforcement actively seek to support those who report assault. A 2007 study found that “survivors who sought out formal supporters — police officers, doctors and clergy members — found that they were more likely to respond negatively. And while research shows that positive responses to disclosures have little effect on victims’ outcomes, negative responses can have seriously detrimental impacts on recovery.” Creating dialogue, setting community expectations, improving access to resources and providing a support network to survivors of sexual assault may provide us with the tools that we need to create a loving — and safe — community for all Yalies.
Isis Davis-Marks is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .