The Less than "Perfect Victim"

As anyone who follows the news knows, college sexual assault has been all over major media outlets recently. From the Rolling Stone article about a now contested gang rape at the University of Virginia, to the new film, The Hunting Ground, and Columbia student Emma Sulcowicz’s performance art piece, campus rape is getting a lot of attention, and many would argue rightly so. In a world where 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in college and administrations deal irresponsibly with the few cases that are reported, this issue should absolutely be addressed.

However, as many interested in the issue of gender based violence understand, rape is not only happening on college campuses. In fact, the most at risk population is college aged women (18-24) who are not in college according to a 2014 Department of Justice Report. The single minded way in which the media addresses sexual assault, as something that happens to women on college campuses, is detrimental in a number of ways to working towards a future without sexual assault in all locales.

First, this limited approach silences victims that do not fill the role we have come to expect: female college student.  The many stories that fall outside this realm are not recognized by major media outlets, leaving victims without an avenue to have their voices heard.

Further, the media’s outlook makes it difficult for victims of sexual assault who do not fit what they are seeing in the news to identify as such. This means that fewer victims understand their options in seeking help and the overall recovery process. When one takes into account at the types of people who attend college and those who do not, the disparity in having access to and understanding the implications of labeling oneself as a victim of sexual assault and consequently seeking help and feeling supported becomes even more problematic. Demographics show that young people who do not attend college tend to be lower income and often people of color. These are the same communities that are at higher risk for sexual assault. So, by creating a system in which the media posits sexual assault as something that only happens to women on college campuses, we perpetuate a society in which women who attend college, and tend to be upper middle class and white, have more access to therapy and other support systems that arise when one labels themselves as a survivor of sexual assault.

While sexual assault on college campuses should absolutely be talked about, we also need to recognize other narratives with equal weight. This approach would help to dispel the “perfect victim” myth, a term that describes the idea that in order to be believed, a victim must have experienced a very specific type of assault. Traditionally, this meant a violent stranger rape, which is statistically improbable. Now, due to the media, we are moving towards a society which necessitates that the victim is a college student in order to be a “perfect victim”. If the media moves away from this exclusive narrative of sexual assault and instead shares the stories of men, high school women, trans people, people of color, and disabled victims, we could work towards a society in which all victims are believed and have access to resources.


college authorities must be

college authorities must be concerned about this..they must know about the anxious condition of college/ should not have to go through sexual assaulting..this is pathetic!

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