Rape on our college campuses is not an occasional thing. National studies, including the Department of Justice-funded Campus Sexual Assault Study, have concluded that one in five women who attend college is raped -- or at least subjected to an attempted rape -- during their years at school.
Only one in 20, according to one study, ever reports it.
Alexandra Forni, a Northern Illinois University student and Cary-Grove High School alumna, had been researching the topic of campus sexual assaults and was shocked at seeing that statistic in study after study.
In a story this week by staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy, Forni talks about the issue and how she and about 20 NIU students spent a year researching it. She directed two short films -- a documentary and a narrative that examines perceptions about campus rape and features a dramatization from a victim's perspective.
This is truly important work. Young women and men alike need to understand that nonconsensual sex is never OK. It can have devastating effects. In fact, it usually does.
According to the respondents in the Campus Sexual Assault Study, 40 percent of the women who were raped contracted sexually transmitted diseases. Eighty percent of them later suffered chronic physical or psychological conditions. The study also cited that women who are raped are 13 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are not.
Campus rapes are usually perpetrated on women who are incapacitated by alcohol (sometimes by drugs), and they are committed more often than not by men they know and trust.
"The most dangerous time for college students in terms of sexual assault is the first six weeks of freshman year," NIU professor Laura Vazquez told Krishnamurthy. Vazquez has overseen the university's research/film project.
Binge drinking messes with one's judgment and reduces the ability to detect risky situations and resist unwanted advances. It's important to note that while alcohol often plays a role in campus rapes, the victim never should be blamed.
Young men should be taught that it's their responsibility to determine whether a woman has consented to sex or is capable of doing so. And that a woman who's incapacitated by alcohol cannot legally consent to it. Being drunk yourself is no excuse.
Young women should be taught strategies on how to avoid risky behavior and how to resist sexual aggressors. They should be given information on where to go for help -- whether physical or mental health support or law enforcement. And they should be encouraged to report it. The stigma is one of the most difficult things to overcome, and it's the main reason so many rapes go unreported.
So, if you're a student, male or female, be aware. And if you're a parent with kids in high school or college, have that talk. As Forni's work emphasizes, everyone needs to understand how the problem occurs and the importance of doing something about it.