Sexual Violence Against Women: A Big Problem in NJ
A new Rutgers University report finds many young women have experienced sexual violence by the time they head off to college.
"The report finds 24 percent of undergraduate women come to campus already having experienced sexual violence," said Sarah McMahon, associate director of the Rutgers Center on Violence Against Women and Children.
She said the report has serious implications, and not just for the colleges and universities that must be attuned to the needs of these students. It also emphasizes the fact that sexual violence is a problem for our youth, and it needs to be addressed.
Sexual violence can be defined as anything from rape to harassment to unwanted sexual comments.
"All forms of sexual violence are harmful," McMahon said. "They can be demeaning and humiliating, and a wide range of sexual violence leaves victims with negative repercussions."
As to whether sexual violence is getting worse, no one is quite sure.
"We don't know from the research whether it's just being reported more because awareness is increasing, so from that perspective, an increase in numbers isn't necessarily a bad thing," McMahon said.
She said a recently-formed White House task force on sexual violence has generated a lot of attention about, and focus on, the subject.
There are multiple reasons why sexual violence is taking place, according to McMahon, including personal beliefs or attitudes.
"There are sometimes group norms that may support violence or define masculinity in a way that allows or permits violence and rape myths," she said, and that includes "false or present beliefs about victims that they've done something to cause the assault. Some of the ones that are most common are that a woman or a girl was dressed in a certain way, so she was asking for it, or she was drinking."
Interestingly, McMahon said many students in college still hold those beliefs still, even though they might not use the same language as years ago when the myths were more blatant.
So how do we decrease sexual violence?
McMahon believes parents need to start talking about this issue as soon as their kids are old enough to speak.
"When you think about the opposite of sexual violence, we're talking about having relationships that are healthy, that are built on respect, so that can really start at a young age with families and schools and communities," she said. "I think the groundwork should be laid with elementary or even middle school, and then some more work needs to be done in high school and into college."