During my senior year of college, the big news in Iowa City was "the campus grouper." A male subject would lurk in the shadows on paved trails and University of Iowa streets at night, surprising unsuspecting females passing by and touching them inappropriately.
In my investigative journalism class, a brave and perhaps slightly naive college decided to entrap the grouper for a story she was crafting regarding sexual assaults on college campuses. Her thought was to recreate the scene, walking alone in grouper's last known whereabouts – attempting to draw out and expose the subject.
Although tenacious and well-intended, needless to say the 20-year-old's plan concerned her fellow students and professor. But, she had a point to prove: No matter what you're wearing, no matter what time it is, no woman should have to be afraid of what or who's behind the corner.
The grouper was eventually caught by the UI Police Department after several months of investigating. But the campus was shaken.
Today, sexual assaults on college campuses are on the rise. Last week the UI announced a video-based training program for students, aimed at spotting potential domestic and sexual assaults. The university also has plans to add lighting to darker areas of campus, enforce harsher penalties on offenders and create more support groups for victims.
July 30, a bi-partisan group of U.S. senators announced the introduction of the The Campus Safety and Accountability Act. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is a co-sponsor of the bill which aims to better define college campus procedures when dealing with sexual assaults. The bill also outlines different methods of coordination between campus officials and law enforcement agencies.
The New York Times blog "The Upshot" criticized the bill Aug. 1, writing it "relies on public shaming of colleges." The bill would create a public database compiled by student surveys. Although columnist Anna Bahr does admit the results would likely show 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted on campus, she is still unconvinced the bill has any teeth.
Regardless of its effectiveness, or its ability to pass through both gridlocked houses of congress, the bill shows at the very least recognition from our leaders — and some male leaders —of the problem.
But it starts with us. Stopping sexual assaults on women starts with fathers and brothers and uncles and grandfathers, teaching young men that sexual assault is always wrong. This may seem like an obvious notion, but the statistics show it's happening everywhere. Until we as men of this nation begin having an honest conversations about the equality of our female counterparts, it's never going to stop.
It's time we stop saying "she never should have been out at 2 a.m.," or "she should have worn a less revealing outfit." There is no excuse for taking advantage of or forcing a woman into a sexual situation. There is never a justification for this. A victim is a victim.
As we send our daughters and sisters to school this fall, we need to continually push our colleges and leaders to take action to stop the violence.