Nice to Meet You! And Some News Out of Pennsylvania

This is the first post from Megan, one of SAFER’s new Board members, over at our blog, Change Happens.

Hello, readers! Before I launch into some of this week’s sexual assault-related news, I want to take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Megan and I’m one of SAFER’s new Co-Communications Coordinators, along with Selena, whose biographical blurb you can also find here. I’m currently a Master of Public Health candidate at Columbia University studying Sociomedical Sciences with a concentration in Sexuality and Health. Besides thinking about sexual and reproductive health and rights, I spend my time cuddling with two unusually friendly Chihuahuas named Stewart and Elinor. I’m very excited to be here, and I’m hoping to help all of you keep abreast of what’s happening re sexual assault with some related news on the side. So stay tuned!

Now that that’s out of the way, I’d like to draw your attention to a recent piece in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about the implementation of House Bill101 at colleges and universities across Pennsylvania. According to Rachel Weaver, this bill, “passed in November, requires schools, among other things, to establish a program that includes information on drug- and alcohol-fueled sexual violence; medical treatment and evidence collection; the possibility of pregnancy; and sexually transmitted diseases.”

I really, really love primary prevention, so this struck me as an exciting development for Pennsylvania. The bill even calls for “a discussion of consent, including an explanation that the victim is not at fault,” although Weaver doesn’t explicitly list consent as a component of the newly-mandated programming. If you ask me, consent represents the singular most important, potentially transformative sexual assault-prevention concept around. All too often, society blames college victims by chalking it up to bad decision-making and a few too many drinks. I’m not saying that binge drinking doesn’t increase one’s likelihood of being raped by another person. But if attitudes toward sex, gender, and sexuality weren’t so utterly messed up, we wouldn’t live in a society where 1 in 5 college women experience sexual assault or attempted sexual assault before graduation.

I have one all-too-familiar gripe with HB 101. Inductive reasoning leads me to believe that this bill only requires sexual assault prevention programming for recently matriculated students. Specifically, it stipulates that:

An institution of higher education and private licensed school shall conduct a follow-up program for the duration of the school year for new students (emphasis mine). The program may consist of the following:

(1)   Lectures relating to sexual violence prevention and awareness.

(2)   Institutional activities relating to sexual violence prevention and awareness.

(3)   Videos and other educational materials relating to sexual violence prevention and awareness.

It’s really awesome that HB 101 requires colleges and universities to go beyond the “talk-about-it-at-orientation-and-forget-about-it” model of sexual assault “prevention.” But what about continuing students? There’s no way in hell that one course and a few outside-the-classroom learning activities reverse a lifetime of rape-culture indoctrination. So why aren’t these sorts of lectures and videos encouraged in students’ second, third, and fourth years of college, too?

It’s easy to be an armchair critic when it comes to sexual violence prevention on U.S. campuses, and there’s no doubt in my mind that HB 101 is a step in the right direction for Pennsylvania. But there’s always, always room for improvement.

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