The media plays an important role in our society. It provides the means by which most of us receive information about what is going on in the world, and can shade perception of problems the community faces. Because of its position as a primary source of information for many people, the media has substantial influence in promoting change and awareness in complex or taboo issues. In the case of sexual assault, the media has contributed greatly to providing awareness of certain aspects of the issue. Of late, many of the stories about sexual assault have been about campus rape and assault. We see information on college assault on televised news, in online articles, and in social media. Lady Gaga even recently came out with a music video addressing the subject of campus rape head on. However, the media’s coverage of sexual assault on campus is a small part of a much larger story.
While the issue of campus assaults is a dire one, campus sexual assault is representative of only a fraction of the population affected by this type of violence. The New York Times ran an article comparing the likelihood of sexual assault among women who attend college versus the women who do not. According to the article, women who do not attend college are about thirty percent more likely to experience sexual assault than women who are the same age who are in college. More pointedly, people in underprivileged circumstances experience more violence to a greater degree than other people in society. Unfortunately, as the New York Times article indicates, there is a dearth of research examining the potential correlation between sexual violence, poverty, and education.
Perhaps part of our fixation on campus sexual violence can be explained by the ease of access to students who are willing to participate in studies about sexual assault. However, because so much information is coming from this select group of individuals, it can be easy to lose sight of those individuals who do not fit into this particular demographic, i.e. students on campus. Put differently, sexual assault impacts all levels of society, but media coverage has done little to cover stories about sexual assault in those communities most vulnerable to this crime.
The representation of sexual assault by media outlets of late has been a marked improvement over the historical representation of sexual assault victims. Popular misconceptions of victims of sexual assault level shame and responsibility for the crime onto the victims. Thanks in part to increased media exposure, in addition to the efforts of principled individuals and community organizations, the broader societal conversation regarding sexual assault has made significant strides. The conversation of of sexual assault on college campuses and making places of higher education safer for the people who are fortunate enough to attend these institutions has received robust media attention. However, it is imperative we as a society do not forget the populations that are already under-represented in regards to services and attention, but are over-represented in regards to violence and crime they experience.
Author: Natalie Thompson