Our next story is about sexual assault in colleges. This story was suggested to us by members of the community here in Boulder, both at our community meet up and by people we have spoken to on the streets of this big college town.
The stat above is one that I could not quite believe when I first heard it - one in five college women are sexually assaulted, according to the White House.
I held a focus group soon after with 10 students from CU-Boulder to find out what they thought about sexual assault on campus, if they knew anyone who had been affected, and what they thought needed to be done.
Very quickly I realised it was a huge issue to them.
To put the statistic into perspective, it means that right now, with around 20 million students enrolled in colleges across the US, and around 57% of those being women, over 2,270,000 women will be sexual assaulted in the next four years.
This number is shocking, and after speaking to women in CU-Boulder, the biggest college here, it’s clear that sexual assault is not a rarity.
Many women have told me their distressing tales - how they were taken advantage of, how they originally thought it was their fault as they “didn’t say no enough” and how they didn’t really know what sexual assault was.
Many men have told me they’ve witnessed it. One told me two of his friends had to leave college after being assaulted.
CU-Boulder is on the White House’s list of schools suspected of Title IX violations. Title IX guarantees that women in federally-funded universities won’t face discrimination due to their gender. Over 70 schools, including CU-Boulder, are accused of have improperly dealt with sexual assault cases, and are now the target of a federal investigation.
The aggressive push to investigate these universities is one part of the White House’s campaign to stop sexual assault in college.
Another part of the campaign has just begun. The ‘It’s On Us” initiative focuses on bystander intervention - asking friends, classmates and peers to step in and stop sexual assault.
A lot of people here, though, tell me prevention should start with education.
Men and women just don’t know what consent is. Is it just an affirmative “no”? Or is silence a “no” as well? Is sexual assault a man attacking from behind a bush, or is it someone you thought was your friend pushing you too far at a party?
The university says it is working on prevention, holding classes and encouraging people to report sexual assault after it happens.
But “Greek life” - the term used for fraternities and the sororities in the US - has received a lot of the blame.
Greek life is something intertwined with college life in America, but it’s increasingly become a target in discussions about the culture of sexual assault on campus.
The big, frequent parties that flow with alcohol are part of the reason for that - some say alcohol is used deliberately to lower women’s inhibitions and ply them for sex.
The culture and mind-set of these groups is another reason. Young men who are living in among a group of like-minded “brothers” with constant pressure to “get girls” or “not be the odd one out” plays its part, the students say.
Sexual assault is a huge problem for colleges here. The White House knows that, the students know that, and the colleges are being forced to address it after being accused of pushing it under the rug for too long.
I’m in the process of finishing the BBC Pop Up film at the moment. It’s currently in the edit stage and it will be done in the next few days. You’ll be able to find it at bbc.com/popup.
- Benjamin Zand
BBC Popup is doing some great stuff here in the U.S. Check them out.