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At colleges plagued with date rape, why 'no' still means 'yes'

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I am lucky, married to a man who respects and loves me, and the mother of two sons who are self-aware gentlemen. Why not simply be grateful for this wonderful conference at my alma mater, filled with brilliant women and old friends? Why write about this now?

Because I still carry the events of 37 years ago with me, as will many woman who have been raped. And because there is a girl reading this now who will be starting at Cornell in the fall, or Penn State, or Miami, who will be entering an environment largely unchanged from the Princeton campus I walked onto nearly four decades ago.

It’s a culture where “no still means yes.” It’s a culture where male sexual dominance (and violence) underlies daily interactions, frat parties, and even a cappella concerts. Skeptics might protest, “They were only having harmless fun. Those guys aren’t rapists.” But it’s precisely this kind of attitude of sexual conquest that entitles men to rape women. And there’s nothing harmless about that.

How campuses entitle men to rape

The date rape statistics speak for themselves. One in four women will be sexually assaulted on a college campus. Between 15 and 30 percent of college women have been victims of acquaintance rape at some point in their lives. And these aren’t violations at the hands of strangers on the street.

According to the National Victims Center, 84 percent of women know their assailant. And 57 percent of rapes occur on a date. For women victims ages 18 to 29, two-thirds know their attacker. And more than 60 percent of rapes occur in residences.

That’s the reality we’re sending our bright college women into. In context, the antics of those college a cappella boys aren’t the stuff of innocent comedy. Those moves are representative of a larger culture that accepts and desensitizes us to sexual violence against women.

I keep asking myself: Why was there nothing in Princeton's She Roars conference that addressed this? College campuses can no longer afford to be complicit in this culture. Women – and men – need to take a stand to change the language, the behaviors, the relationships, the clubs, and the institutions that allow it.

The benefit will be a wiser, more open, more equal society in general.

And perhaps the men's a cappella performance at the next She Roars conference will not be quite so tone-deaf.

Tina deVaron is a singer/pianist/songwriter based in New York City. For the last six years, she has been featured at the Carlyle Hotel's Madeline's Tea event and for many years entertained at the Waldorf-Astoria. She has released two CDs of her songs about motherhood (If Mama Ain't Happy and Water Over Stones), and is working on a musical based on her songs.

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