By Cheryl Mattox Berry
As the number of sexual assault cases rises on college campuses, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure young women don’t put themselves in a position to be victimized.
There are public awareness campaigns about the perils of drinking and doing drugs, but sometimes the target audience overlooks the unwanted sex angle. Have you ever talked to a girl headed to college in frank terms about sex, booze and drugs on campus?
I have. With my daughter (a grad student) and two nieces (a sophomore and a senior in college.) My daughter heard my sex talks at an early age as often and detailed as I felt necessary based on her age. For college, she got a separate talk about personal responsibility from her dad and me. I threw in every worse case scenario that she might encounter that could lead to sexual assault.
Before my nieces left home, I wrote them a long letter that covered everything about college life (from birth control to starchy food to roofies) that I learned as a student and from my experience as an advisor to a sorority at the University of Miami.
I explained what often happens when you drink or do drugs and end up alone with a young man. Sex. Plain and simple. I follow up the letter with a phone call to answer questions and elaborate on topics I’ve written about.
As mothers, grandmothers, aunts, godmothers, friends and cousins, we must get the message across to young women that they have the power to stop most sexual assaults by being in control of their behavior. We’ve got to preach this message until we’re out of breath, indoctrinate them and make them recite it like a mantra.
It’s really important these days because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked Obama-era guidelines on how schools should handle sexual assaults. She thought the rules denied proper due process to those accused of sexual misconduct and failed to ensure fairness. DeVos’ decision came after she met with several mothers of male college students who had been punished for sexual assault.
Under the Obama administration, schools were told to apply a “preponderance of evidence” standard, which requires that 50 percent of evidence must point to the crime. Now, schools can opt to use a more rigorous “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which requires a higher burden of proof.
Advocates for rape victims fear that rolling back the Obama-era guidelines will tip the scale in favor of rapists and deter students from reporting sexual assault. We can’t change DeVos’ mind, but we can teach young women how to protect themselves so they won’t become another statistic.