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Will Giving College Women Guns End Sexual Assault On Campus?

This is a trick question.

According to Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, the only thing “young, hot little girls” on college campuses need to do to prevent rape is carry a gun. Fiore, who has sponsored a bill that would allow guns on college campuses in her state, was quoted in the New York Times yesterday saying that she believed the “sexual assaults that are occurring would go down once these sexual predators get a bullet in their head.”

It was Fiore’s incendiary comments that sparked backlash on Wednesday, including over at Slate, where Amanda Marcotte argues that this is a case of pro-gun advocates “hijacking the issue of campus sexual assault to advocate for the long-standing goal of getting more colleges to allow guns on campus.”

The pro-gun advocate’s argument is simple: Women on college campuses would be protected from rapists or the threat of being raped if they carried a gun. But, as Tara Culp-Ressler points out for ThinkProgress, this is just “one of many ways that women are told to take steps to prevent their own rapes.”

Culp-Ressler also brings up several other important points of concern:

University presidents, college students, and domestic violence experts are all opposed to the idea of allowing concealed weapons on school grounds. They point out that it’s an ineffective policy because of the nature of campus violence; most assaults take place under the influence of alcohol, and the majority don’t occur between strangers.” In fact, 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone the victim knows

John D. Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor and national president of One in Four, also echoed his concerns to the New York Times. Because a “rape situation usually starts with some sort of consensual behavior…by the time it switches to nonconsensual,” Foubert says it would be “nearly impossible to run for a gun.”

So before we take up arms, let's consider some reasonable alternatives.

  • Educating the Public on Sexual Assault
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    This isn’t the first time a bill like Fiore’s has been introduced, nor is it the first time people have spoken out about the need to arm college students. In 2013, ThinkProgress quoted two Indiana University officials who spoke out against these measures, saying education “about rape culture on college campuses could actually be a more powerful tool than a gun.” The officials argued that the students who “know what constitutes sexual assault and the circumstances in which it usually happens are the ones who have a better chance of protecting themselves.” By educating our youth on what consent is, we can help them recognize when a situation has the potential to turn dangerous.

  • Promote Bystander Intervention

    As NPR reports, having a friend or group of friends that support violence against women is a “big risk factor for committing sexual assault.” Because, as Foubert explains, what other men think “matters most to boys and emerging adult men,” it’s important we teach children about violence prevention from a young age. The more children and young adults we educate, the more active and ready bystanders we’ll see on college campuses.

  • Dismantling Rape Culture
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    Early last year, Zerlina Maxwell wrote about her experience encountering rape culture, what she called “a culture in which sexual violence is the norm and victims are blamed for their own assaults.” One of the clearest examples she offered as proof that we live in a rape culture is how “we teach women how to not get raped, instead of teaching men not to rape.” We need to shift the conversation away from guns on college campuses and bring it to prevention efforts. It’s hard to believe that the boys and men we know and care about might be rapists, but it’s an ugly truth we have to acknowledge. After all, “denying the obvious” means we allow “rapists to go unpunished and leave survivors silenced.”

  • Forcing Schools to Uphold Title IX Responsibilities
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    At End Rape on Campus, Annie Clark and Andrea Pino are just two of the young women who are making serious headway in the fight against sexual assault on college campuses. Instead of trying to bring guns on campus, they’re trying to bring justice to students whose schools haven’t provided them the protection they’re guaranteed under the Title IX amendment and the Clery Act. By empowering students to hold their schools accountable, the activists are setting universities and colleges on the path to fewer sexual assaults.

Want to do your part to stop sexual assaults on college campuses? Check out these resources from Know Your IX, NO MORE, and It’s On Us to learn more.