Kristen Morse / Gavel Media

The Costs of Getting Caught: Sexual Assault in the Media

What is one thing you would do if you knew you could get away with it? Maybe some people would steal some chips at On the Fly, others might cheat on a quiz. I know that I would hack into ResLife in order to ensure I get a Mod senior year. In the grand scheme of things, while these actions might be “morally wrong” and say something to your character, they aren’t the end of the world.

In a study done by researchers at the University of North Dakota, of 73 college students surveyed, 31.7% said they would have “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” if they could do it without getting caught. But when the question was rephrased to say “intentions to force a woman to sexual intercourse” without being caught, only 13.6% agreed. Although this was a small survey that can’t be applied to the entire American college student population, It still tells us a shocking amount about how men think of sexual assault. 13.6% is still an alarmingly high number, but it is morbidly funny how people find it okay to force themselves onto someone. But rape? The R word? No no no, absolutely not.

With all of the reports of sexual assault in the media, is anyone really surprised by these statistics? Sure, one might expect well-known professionals to have more decency than some college-aged males, but as history has shown, those in places of power—be it men, white people, heterosexual people, the able-bodied, or otherwise—are pretty similar throughout space and time through one shared commonality: their inability to realize their privilege and power, and their contrasting love of acting upon them.

Even more importantly, both these college-aged and professional males are motivated by the low chances of getting caught. Some women took decades to reveal the actions of their sexual harassers — men in the media have so much control over what gets out and what doesn’t. While many women have become empowered to speak out about their harassment and thus the chances of getting caught have become higher, we cannot generalize this cultural shift as applicable to everyone. It is important to remember that there are more women who still keep their sexual exploitation a secret than those who have spoken up about it.

The recent social media movement "#MeToo," has encouraged women to post the hashtag on their social media accompanied with a confession that they have been victims of sexual assault. This movement, combined with the recent surge in public allegations and confirmations of sexual assault among major medial moguls, actors, and men in power, has created a conversation that has long been pushed to the side of national news coverage. While these stories have brought the prevalence of the issue to the forefront of national discourse, the issue can only be solved by addressing the source of the problem: power-hungry men who interpret their positions of wealth and status as justification for their actions.

It is never the woman’s drunkenness, clothing, looks, or personality that leads to rape. Rape is always caused by a rapist. If we continue to celebrate the fact that a few select men have been “caught” red-handed for their crimes, then we are forgetting that there are still many men who are continuing to go about their day exercising their power in malicious ways. Potential rapists and harassers (and everyone) need to learn that sexual harassment is not only a crime, but something your moral character can never recover from. If a perpetrator learns that only after getting caught, it’s already too late.

This post was revised on Dec. 7 to more accurately describe University of North Dakota study results.

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