CONTENT WARNING: This story contains mentions of sexual assault that may be triggering to some readers.
Two tragic events that occurred just weeks apart reflected a similar theme: women being assaulted and killed, sometimes in broad daylight or public spaces, despite taking precautions.
In early March, Sarah Everard was kidnapped and murdered while walking alone in London, England, CNN reported.
On March 18, two men allegedly raped and killed a Bucks County woman in a Miami hotel, ABC News reported.
April marks Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This month, Temple University should target victim-blaming language and aim to stop perpetrators from committing crimes as opposed to encouraging women to be extra cautious.
Rape culture represents the ways society blames the victim and normalizes sexual violence as an inevitable consequence of irresponsible actions, according to Brandon University.
A TUalert on March 13 notifying students of a reported sexual assault urged students to be aware of their surroundings, travel with friends, walk in well-lit and regularly traveled streets and call Temple Police or 911 if they feel concerned for their safety.
But caveats like this expect vulnerable people to be responsible for keeping others from harming them, said Laura Levitt, a religion professor and chair of the Committee on Sexual Misconduct for the Association of Jewish Studies.
“Prevention is about raising awareness about the problem and shifting perceptions,” Levitt said. “That is all about cultural change. Temple is doing the best it can, but we live in a culture that is still struggling with these issues.”
Victim-blaming attitudes that tell survivors the assault was their fault discourage them from reporting, Inside Southern reported.
As a result, students who experience sexual harassment often don’t think it was serious enough to fit the definition of harm, said Liz Zadnik, associate director of the Wellness Resource Center.
“I think one piece around language is validating that if something made you uncomfortable or violated your boundaries that it’s okay to feel harmed by that,” Zadnik said.
In 2019, 11 combined incidents of rape and fondling reported to Campus Safety Services occurred on campus and four occurred off campus, according to Temple’s 2020 Annual Crime Rates and Statistics.
Amina Shakeel, a freshman biophysics major, was sexually harassed outside of Johnson and Hardwick Halls earlier this year.
“An older man clearly just from the street made a comment about how ‘my ass looked fat in my pants’ and it was super uncomfortable,” Shakeel said. “All I could do was walk faster praying he didn’t follow.”
Women Organized Against Rape has a 24-hour hotline for survivors of sexual assault, and Tuttleman Counseling Services provides counseling to survivors, according to Student Health Services.
Temple also requires first-year students to complete one mandatory sexual assault training module in their first semester, The Temple News reported.
But the university needs to reassess their primary prevention programs by changing victim-blaming language.
Sexual assault prevention programs must address the prevalence of victim blaming, like scapegoating women for walking alone or wearing certain clothes.
Sharing general safety measures is important, but when these messages are not inclusive and the wording guilts victims into doubting themselves, it becomes harmful, said Andrea Seiss, Temple’s Title IX coordinator.
“People have a right to dress how they want and walk where they want and not be subjected to danger. Safety conversations are important, but they’re across the board,” Seiss added. “It’s being able to explain here are universal safety measures for everybody.”
Changing social norms, empowering women and creating protective environments are effective primary prevention methods, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As we begin Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Temple and other universities should teach sexual assault prevention as preventing a person from assaulting others, not the victim from being asaulted.