Gil: A Distressing Discrepancy

by Michelle Gil | 9/24/15 7:03pm

Earlier this week, the results of the Association of American Universities sexual assault campus climate survey were made public. When reading through the report tables that broke down the survey’s responses along several factors, including sex, race and class year, I came across one statistic in particular that jumped out at me. The survey question asked students to respond to the following statement — “Initial university orientation included information about sexual assault or sexual misconduct.” The answers included 2.6 percent of male undergraduate Dartmouth students responding “no,” while 8.5 percent of male Dartmouth undergraduates responded, “I don’t remember.” In contrast, only 0.7 percent of female undergraduate Dartmouth students responded “no,” while 1.0 percent of female Dartmouth undergraduates responded, “I don’t remember.” Indeed, Orientation week does include a workshop on consent that discusses sexual assault at some length. I find it extremely concerning that more than one in 10 male students either does not recall this workshop or incorrectly believes this workshop never occurred. For females, this number is less thanone in 50.

It was this particular contrast in survey answers that struck me most when reading through the results, more so even than the difference in percentage of students who have experienced some form of nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching involving physical force or incapacitation since entering school — 27.9 percent of female undergraduates versus 4.5 percent of male undergraduates.

Why was I more surprised by the question about Orientation information than about the actual instances of sexual assault? Because I believe that the answers regarding the existence or lack thereof of the Orientation workshop shed light on a failure of one of the most important tools in combating sexual assault — education. The fact that, even when education on consent and sexual assault is provided, such a large percentage of male students do not even recall ever having received the lessons — let alone the information provided within — is startling. I think the answer to this survey question may actually provide some insight into the vast difference in percentage of female versus male undergraduate students who ultimately fall victim to sexual assault, as well as the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators of sexual assault are males.

Why is it that so many more males than females on campus cannot recall the consent workshop? Perhaps women, statistically more likely to become victims of sexual assault, are thus more likely to remember being educated on the topic. Maybe male students are not expecting to become victims — and, of course, are not necessarily planning to become perpetrators — and thus tune out and quickly forget the education. Or perhaps it is the other way around — because males are more likely to forget learning about sexual assault, they are subsequently more likely to become perpetrators. Most likely, it is some combination of the above. Men entering college, not expecting to become victims or perpetrators of sexual assault — or perhaps believing sexual assault statistics to be overstated by radical feminists, as has been claimed in many a national opinion columns — so easily forget ever learning about the topic. But it is precisely because they forget about what they learned that can so dangerously lead some men to commit sexual assault.

Of course, there is always the chance that the 11 percent of male Dartmouth students who don’t remember the “Sex Signals” workshop are not the same male students who have led to so many female students becoming victims of sexual assault — but for some reason I find that possibility unlikely.

Something needs to be done to amend this appalling statistic. Part of the onus may be on the College to provide sexual assault education that is more memorable for male students. A large part of the responsibility, however, lies with the male students themselves. I believe that this statistic should be a wake up call to Dartmouth students. It cannot just be on female students to safeguard themselves against sexual assault. It must also be on male students to pay attention to education on consent and sexual assault and to remember that information, even if they do not think sexual assault is an issue pertinent to them.