A university sent out a 'rape prevention' email following a sexual assault on campus. I'm impressed.

Can all colleges everywhere please talk about sexual assault prevention like this?

A sexual assault was reported on a college campus last week.

Unfortunately, sexual assaults on college campuses aren't all that unusual. And this one sounds pretty familiar: A student reported that she was assaulted in a dorm by someone she knew. It happened at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


The university sent out an email informing the school community.

Under the Clery Act, colleges are required to inform students of crime on and around campus.

Take note of this part of the email:

Sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. While nothing is failsafe, here are some suggestions everyone may want to consider:
- Make sure you have consent. Consent is a clear and freely given yes, not the absence of a no.
- People who are incapacitated by alcohol or drugs cannot give consent.
- Practice being assertive about your boundaries.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uneasy or sense something is wrong, call for assistance.
- Be active in supporting a safe and respectful community. If you see others engaging in disrespectful or inappropriate actions, speak up and get involved, or contact someone else to assist.




Among the tips on how to avoid sexual assault are two incredibly important points: One must ensure they have consent, and a person who's incapacitated cannot give consent.

And that follows the reminder that sexual assault is never the victim's fault.

I know this shouldn't be a big deal, but let's be honest: It is.

Over and over, when we talk about how to avoid sexual assault, we list all the things potential victims can do to avoid being raped instead of what potential rapists can do to avoid raping.

It's not a subtle difference. And yes, while it's wise to know how to keep ourselves safe, we also have to stop blaming victims.

Blame-shifting in action

I reached out to the UW police department to ask about the email. Spokesman Marc Lovicott explained:

"We've always operated under the assumption that a sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. Ever. And I'd like to think that most police departments operate the same way. That said, we realized we needed to do a better job of clearly conveying that message to our community, while at the same time offering tools for our community to consider."

They're looking toward solutions, not just talk:

"We took time over the last year to reconstruct and develop these messages/suggestions so they're actually useful. You'll notice some are suggestions aimed at an alleged perpetrator, and that's intentional. ... We needed to do more to get the message across that sexual assault is not acceptable. But how do we do that without just blatantly saying 'Don't sexually assault someone'? It sounds sort of silly, because everyone knows — or should know — that sexual assault is wrong. So what suggestions can we offer? We focused on consent — what is and isn't consent, and the lack of consent when someone is incapacitated. The more we push out messages about getting consent, alcohol use, etc. ... the better."

I hope this email is indicative of an entire culture change that shifts the responsibility for rape to where it belongs: the perpetrator.

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