What ISIS And American College Campuses Surprisingly Have In Common

by John Haltiwanger

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and American college campuses share a deplorable commonality: high frequencies of rape.

ISIS proudly justifies rape on religious grounds, using it as both a weapon and recruiting tool.

American universities go to absurd lengths to sweep instances of rape under the rug.

The problem is staggering. According to a White House report, one in five women (20 percent) is sexually assaulted in college. Around 5 percent of men report being sexually assaulted on campus as well.

Yet, as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand notes, 41 percent of colleges haven't "conducted an investigation of a sexual assault complaint in the last five years and only 10-25 percent of students found 'responsible' for sexual assault were permanently kicked off campus."

It's not surprising over 100 colleges are under federal investigation for mishandling sexual assault.

American universities have accepted a culture of rape in order to present the illusion their campuses are safe for the sake of enrollment rates. ISIS has accepted a culture of rape in order to continue its reign of terror.

In this sense, rape is directly tied to their respective public images, with the primary difference being ISIS attempts to use it in a promotional capacity.

ISIS uses rape as a weapon.

By broadcasting the fact rape is permissible within its sphere of influence, ISIS is able to recruit men from sexually repressed and deeply conservative Muslim societies.

According to a recent report from the New York Times, ISIS contends the Quran not only supports but encourages rape against non-believers.

This has translated into the organized rape, sexual assault and sexual enslavement of Yazidi women and girls in particular. Some are as young as 12.

The international community cannot ignore this and must do everything it can to help the Yazidi women who've been victimized by this group.

Systematic rape and sexual violence have long been weapons of war. Given its history and connection to both violent conflict and terrorism, it's hardly surprising rape is one of ISIS' primary tactics.

Rape is always a disgusting, unjustifiable and abhorrent crime, whatever the context. But it's an unfortunate fact we can expect sexual violence to coincide with war, particularly in developing countries.

It's much harder to comprehend why students at universities in the United States, one of the most developed, wealthy and powerful countries in the world, also have to be wary of sexual violence.

This is not to belittle the plight of the Yazidis, or others in the midst of war who've been subjected to rape. But the anarchical character of violent conflict makes it extremely challenging for sexual violence to be documented and prevented.

It also doesn't help rape victims in war-zones and surrounding regions are frequently stigmatized, spurned, blamed and sometimes even killed by their families and communities.

Not to mention, it's not exactly a walk in the park to find reliable hospitals or medical care in the chaos of war.

Administrators at American universities aren't facing the same issues or limitations, but students who experience rape are still frequently ignored or ostracized and don't receive the support they need.

American universities seem to care more about public image than student victims of rape.

Federal law requires colleges to report the crimes that occur on their campuses (including sexual assault). A recent study published in the APA journal of Psychology, Public Policy and Law, however, revealed many major American colleges and universities have undercounted sexual assaults in deliberate attempts to distort the scale of the problem.

Correspondingly, Sarah Merriman, a spokeswoman for a national advocacy group called SAFER Campus, states:

Schools often want to preserve their perfect public image, and rape is not a part of that image; often, sexual assault prevention activists and survivors are treated as adversaries to a college's public face.

It's ridiculous, for example, colleges ask alleged victims of rape for their sexual history. This suggests investigators are looking for details that would allow them to blame the victim, or present them as promiscuous and misleading.

In this environment, it's no wonder Bureau of Justice statistics show 80 percent of female college students who are raped or sexually assaulted don't report it to police.

All of this is beyond indefensible.

We need to spread awareness and put an end to victim blaming.

No student should head off to college, walk to class, attend a party or enter a dormitory with the fear of being sexually violated. No victim of sexual assault should be stigmatized and abandoned. No institution of higher education should prioritize enrollment over the safety of their students.

College is meant to be one of the most enriching periods of life, but as long as many universities stand idly by in the face of sexual violence, it will remain a nightmare for far too many.

Fortunately, the issue has begun to garner more attention over the past several years as people have begun to awaken to the scope of the problem. There have also been recent legislative developments aimed at addressing this.

While most of this is positive, the only truly viable solution to the epidemic of campus rape is to be ruthlessly vigilant about spreading awareness.

We need to educate people on consent from a young age so there is no confusion whatsoever about what it means.

We need to continue to hold universities accountable when they don't provide survivors or alleged victims with proper means of reporting and coping with sexual violence.

We need to come up with a comprehensive framework for universities to adjudicate cases pertaining to sexual violence.

Most of all, as a society, we need to completely alter our views on sex and end the horrendous culture of victim blaming and shaming.

No one should be made to feel embarrassed for engaging in consensual sexual acts. Far too often, however, women are labeled "sluts" for exploring their sexuality, while men who do the same are applauded for their ostensible virility and prowess.

This evident double-standard directly contributes to the counterintuitive and misogynistic perspectives that lead people to blame victims of rape for what happened to them. As long as this persists, we will never end sexual assault on college campuses, or anywhere for that matter.

Citations: ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape (NYT), Iraq ISIS Escapees Describe Systematic Rape (HRW), Wars overlooked victims (The Economist), What will it take to stop Isis using rape as a weapon of war (The Guardian), No college should ever ask for the sexual history of alleged rape victims (The Guardian), 124 Colleges 40 School Districts Under Investigation For Handling Of Sexual Assault (Huffington Post), Carrying Their Weight Giving Voice to Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault (Huffington Post), Not Alone (White House), Do students get a fair hearing An effort to change how colleges handle sexual assaults (Washington Post), One in 5 women say they have been sexually assaulted in college (Washington Post), College students remain deeply divided over what consent actually means (Washington Post), Ending Sexual Assault on College Campuses New Law Kicks In July 1 (Huffington Post), In Iraq a story of rape shame and honor killing (LA Times), Many universities undercount sexual assaults on campus research finds (American Psychological Association), Rape And Sexual Assault Among CollegeAge Females 1995 to 2013 (BOJ), The Clery Act in Detail (Know Your IX)