Jennifer Page: A missing piece of anti-rape campaign at UMass

Last modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014
AMHERST — I commend the University of Massachusetts Amherst for its UMatter at UMass campaign. The fact that the university is tackling the issue of rape and sexual assault shows that the school takes it seriously.

As a recent Gazette article stated, one out of four female college students in the U.S. report being victims of rape or attempted rape. That’s why UMass Amherst should be taking this seriously.

However, I believe one crucial element is missing from the campaign. UMatter at UMass teaches potential victims to identify sexual misconduct, addresses bystander awareness, talks about the meaning of consent and helps people understand the best ways to support victims.

The one group it doesn’t do a good enough job getting through to? Rapists and potential rapists.

I believe that the best way to prevent rape is to teach young men how to not rape. We teach young women how to not get raped: We offer them self-defense classes, we tell them not to walk alone at night and not to accept a drink from someone they don’t know, and some of us even suggest that women carry guns to protect themselves.

So why don’t we teach young men how to not rape?

Like it or not, we live in a rape culture – a culture where a woman’s clothing can take more blame for her rape than the actual person who raped her. The idea of teaching men how to not rape makes us uncomfortable, which is probably why we don’t do more of it.

The UMatter at UMass website does give some valuable information on what consent is, what questions to ask if you’re not sure if you’ve received consent and how to recognize a non-verbal “no.”

And it flat-out states that if a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, she or he cannot give consent. However, these tidbits of information are “sidebars” to the main content of the website.

UMatter at UMass urges us to be “direct” when we witness a harmful situation; I believe that we need to be just as direct when talking to men about not raping.

Organizations like Men Can Stop Rape and Men Stopping Violence are doing great work mobilizing men to prevent violence against women and girls.

UMass would do well to look at how these organizations work to prevent rape and sexual assault.

Jennifer Page lives in Amherst.