Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 26, 2020

The new sexual assault module is a disgrace

By EMELINE ARMITAGE | March 2, 2017

The University’s new required “Think About It” online course about sexual assault, alcohol and sex on campus is one of the most inept, incompetent and downright insulting programs I have come across. I am honestly flabbergasted as to how this program was accepted and sent out to students after years of intelligent conversations about sexual assault.

I have limited space, so I will leave out the conversation surrounding the drugs section of the training in this article. However, the conflation of alcohol, drugs, relationship abuse and sexual assault in the video reflects criticisms that have been going on since at least 2014.

At a 2014 forum on sexual assault, Dean of Student Life Terry Martinez acknowledged that the dangerous conflation between alcohol and sexual assault in campus conversations can lead to incorrect thinking that the blame for sexual assault is alcohol rather than the perpetrator. Clearly, the administration has either forgotten or chosen to ignore this criticism.

The opening section of the training module which concentrates on nebulously-defined “hookup culture” was problematic, and the module ignored the existence of trans people, but due to space constraints, I cannot further elaborate on those issues.

Due to the large amount of ludicrous misinformation in the video, I will also not have room to address the problems with Bystander Intervention Training (which the module endorses) but my previous article entitled “For Real Change, We Need More than BIT” from Oct. 15, 2015, outlines my concerns.

I would like to address our Title IX Coordinator Joy K. Gaslevic who approved this program: Did none of the following red flags pop out at you? Why on earth was this training module chosen?

Without a doubt, the most enraging part of the module was when rape was defined as “vaginal intercourse with someone who cannot give consent.” Anyone who has worked with or studied the topic of sexual assault at all knows that this is not true and perpetrates myths that have harmed both women and men who are victims of rape.

Rape should be defined as unwanted penetration or the act of forcing someone to penetrate any orifice. This is an unbelievably simple and dangerous mistake to make. The law is way behind in the correct terminology, and training modules should explain these discrepancies better. When I saw that sentence come up on my computer screen, I was blown away that this program was approved by our Title IX coordinator. Bizarrely, the training module later says that cis men can be raped, despite having defined rape as solely forced vaginal intercourse.

The worst example in the video is the story in which a man named Alex had sex with a woman while she was passed out. In other words, he raped her. The training module does not say that he raped her but rather than he “committed sexual assault.” This phrasing is minimizing rape, and for what purpose?

This story leads into the section called “acquaintance assault” as opposed to “acquaintance rape.” This whitewashing language should have been a red flag for our Title IX coordinator and other administrators involved in choosing  this training module. I am shocked it was not.

Another red flag which should have immediately stuck out to our Title IX coordinator is that the rape Alex committed is described as a “mistake” and the video goes on to say that Alex made many mistakes throughout the night. Rape is not a “mistake.” It is a deliberate violation.

During the “what should you do when a friend has been sexually assaulted” part of the training, the suggestion “encourage your friend to report” is made. This is widely irresponsible advice as reporting can have serious unintended consequences for the victim, and no victim should be encouraged to report or not to report — it should be up to them (for more information on this topic, I refer people to my Sept. 22, 2016 article entitled “Listen to the victims of sexual assault”).

As someone who has been writing about sexual assault on campus for the past three years, I am personally insulted that this is the level of understanding and intelligence the University has towards this issue. I am indescribably disgusted. I couldn’t even cover half of the problems with the program. You all knew better, and we know you knew better, because conversations concerning these issues have been going on for years with more intelligent conclusions than anything to come out of the training module.

I would have ended this article with something like “I hope the University and Title IX coordinator can reflect on these problems and come up with something better” but after the experience of this training course, I have no hope that they will (or even have the will to) come up with something better.

The sad news is I feel like crying after taking this training module. This is what the school has us do, after years of research and activism and analysis? No Hopkins student should have to take this module. I feel utterly defeated.

At least I won the “Awesomeness” badge for answering all the questions.

Emeline Armitage is a junior International Studies major from Cleveland.

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