You know enough to be aware that sexual assault happens on campus. You might have heard about a friend of a friend who had a bad experience. At night, you never walk alone and always in well-lit areas. Maybe you are not the partying kind. Going to a big party with a punch bowl and keg doesn’t appeal to you. You prefer hanging around in your dorm with a small group. You have even discussed looking out for each other at parties. You are prepared. You are aware. It could never happen to you.

Then you get a text from a male friend, the one who sits next to you in your history class, inviting you to a last minute get together. He’s the guy who saves you a seat up front at each lecture. You don’t know him very well but he seems nice enough and your friends are coming too. However, this person is basically a stranger to you. Yes, you know him but only in a public context.

In college, it’s not likely that you will be attacked by a random stranger who jumps out of the bushes or who hides behind cars in the parking lot. Statistically, you need to be worried about the people you know. The person that is most likely to sexually assault or rape you will be someone familiar. You may go to classes with him, you may see him at parties, you may be connected through social media. It may even be someone you consider a friend. The Department of Justice reports that 90% of college women who have been sexually assaulted or raped knew their attackers.

As awareness of sexual assault on college campuses grows, research has focused on the types of men involved in these crimes. It is worth noting that sexual assault at schools is not primarily carried out by repeat offenders. Hundreds of conversations with college-age men and women over the last ten years and this recent study* have shown that college-age men can be roughly divided into three categories.

 The Good Guys: This makes up most men and they are the ones who do the right thing, whether by intervening or exercising good judgement.

The Bad Guys:  A limited selection of men that will offend and re-offend – includes serial rapists.

The On-the-Fence Guys: These are the opportunists. They will take advantage of a woman if she is in a compromised state, such as drunk, drugged or passed out. This is supported by research indicating that one-third of college men admitted that they would rape a woman if they knew that nobody would ever find out and that there would be no consequences. A man in this group might also be acting under the influence of alcohol or drugs and will feel guilty afterwards.

The definition of consent, meaning agreement at each stage of intimacy, has been evolving as schools grapple with ways to help and protect students. College campuses across the country have been adopting the notion of affirmative consent, meaning that only a freely given “yes” counts. Silence and indifference are not consent. If you are incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, then you are not giving consent. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent. You should always remember that anyone who does not listen to and respect the two-letter word “no” has no respect for you and means to control you.

The notion of what constitutes agreement was first implemented at Antioch College in Ohio in 1993 when they introduced the slogan “Yes Means Yes.”

Highlighting the difference in attitudes back then, Saturday Night Live initially mocked the rule in a skit featuring Phil Hartman as the host of a game show called, “Is It Date Rape?” Actors mimed encounters that students (played by Shannen Doherty and Chris Farley) would judge as “date rape” or “not date rape.”

As recently as 2011, “No Means No” has been used as fodder for offensive jokes. A Yale university fraternity was suspended for five years after its members marched around campus chanting, “No mean yes, yes means anal” during a pledge initiation event. A fraternity at Texas Tech was stripped of its charter after painting the same phrase on signs during a party.

Always remember that in any physical, sexual activity, all participants must give “affirmative and enthusiastic” consent at every step. If you cannot or do not, then you have not given your consent.

Be kind, be friendly, but be cautious with new friendships and relationships.

Steve Kardian has spent more than thirty years as a career law enforcement officer. He is a certified New York State/FBI defensive tactics instructor and an expert on the criminal mind. Kardian is the author of The New Superpower for Women and founder of Defend University, where he trains thousands of people each year on safety and self-defense, as well as strategies and tactics uniquely tailored to women’s safety.


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