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Panel discusses rapist stereotypes

With topics ranging from rapist stereotypes to student activism as a method of change, this semester’s final sexual assault panel continued contributing to campus discussions of rape.

The working group RAPE: Perceptions, Realities, Responses hosted a public forum Monday entitled “Is rape different at college?”

The discussion, which was the fourth in a series, is funded by a grant from the College of Arts and Sciences, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities and the Program in Sexuality Studies.

Robert Pleasants, interpersonal violence prevention coordinator for UNC Campus Health Services, said the common perception of a rapist is inaccurate.

“The rapist that everyone is afraid of is someone jumping out of the bushes with a weapon,” he said.

Pleasants also said this perceived assailant is typically an African-American male — despite 90 percent of assaults being intra-racial. He said this myth leaves white men on campus unmarked and allows undetected rapists to continue their crimes.

“Of the majority of sexual assaults that happen on campus, 90 percent are from men who are repeat rapists,” he said.

Pleasants said undetected rapists are good at identifying likely victims, testing their boundaries and premeditating attacks.

Because it is a common notion that a rapist uses a weapon, undetected rapists who use psychological weaponry — power, control, manipulation and threats — that can be backed up by physical force often fly under the radar.

“The people who are doing most of the assaults are left unexamined,” Pleasants said.

Christi Hurt, interim Title IX coordinator and director of the Carolina Women’s Center, said constructing a dominant narrative for sexual violence falsely creates “one true kind of rape,” which makes everything outside the mold difficult to understand.

“Rape is different every single time it happens,” she said.

If a university knows, or should have known about any sexual or gender based discrimination, it must take action to end the behavior, address its impact and make sure it doesn’t happen again, Hurt said.

This means providing relief to victims such as academic accommodations — course changes, exam relief — and changing housing situations.

“What UNC is doing right now is trying to promote more of a Title IX assessment approach to our work,” Hurt said.

She said when a person brings a sexual assault case to the University, administrators want to make sure that person has a menu of options to help decide where they need to go next, such as evidence collection, moving exam times or taking out no contact orders.

“Victims must know their choices,” said Ada Gregory, director of the Women’s Center at Duke University. “They must be informed.”

“Know Your IX” is a national campaign, coordinated in part by UNC students, that aims to educate all college students about their rights under Title IX and collects survivors’ stories.

In the past year, there has been a spike in students at universities across the nation filing federal lawsuits when administrators have allegedly failed to adequately address sexual assault cases.

In addition to UNC, universities facing federal investigations include the University of Virginia, University of Notre Dame, Princeton University and Dartmouth College.

Gregory said this failure to address sexual assaults is largely because administrators would rather keep up appearances than bring negative attention to their schools for arresting rapists.

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“We have not created a campus culture of safety where people are actually able to participate fully and safely in all of their activities on a campus,” Hurt said.

Gregory said networking among student activists allows students to learn from each other about what works when challenging their university.

She also said student activism, as a response to sexual assault, is what makes rape on-campus different.

“There is a will amongst the student body that can command incredible change in very quick, quick ways that I have not seen in the community,” she said.