Bayley Auditorium was filled to capacity this past Tuesday as students representing sports teams, Greek organizations, Residence Hall Association (RHA) as well as countless faculty and staff members who came to listen to guest speaker Keith Edwards address an issue that has plagued college campus for years: sexual violence.
Edwards has spoken at over 100 colleges and universities, has written more than 15 books and chapters on sexual violence and has presented more than 100 programs at national conferences.
“When people ask me why I do what I do, I always tell them that I have 3 reasons,” Edwards said. “The survivors I’ll never know, the survivors I do know and the men I know.”
During Edwards’ speech, he started off by stating that “saying sexual violence is a women’s issue is a horrible mistake. Sexual violence happens to everyone including men, women and those that identify as transgender.”
While victims of sexual violence aren’t exclusively women, the perpetrators are overwhelmingly men.
“Sexual violence is a man’s issue, which is very empowering for me to hear as a man,” Edwards said. “This means I have lots of opportunities to be a part of the solution.”
In regards to college campuses, part of the problem is that universities have taken a reactive approach to the issue of sexual violence; telling women to walk home in pairs, carry your keys a certain way or to keep pepper spray on your person at all times.
Edwards claimed that the best way to change this outlook into a more proactive one is to properly educate the community on the issue. According to Edwards, when questioned, 84 percent of people that commit sexual assaults wouldn’t deem their actions illegal, let alone call it sexual violence.
“The reason why more perpetrators don’t know what they’ve done is because they aren’t well educated on the subject,” Edwards said. “The challenge here isn’t educating men on the topic, it’s helping them to unlearn everything that today’s hookup culture has already taught them.”
The first step in changing the rape culture on college campuses is stressing the importance of consent in any and every relationship. Consent needs to be given at every step of the way and it needs to be given by someone who feels that they have the option to say no if they wanted to.
“We’ve been taught to go for it before their parents get home or before they sober up,” Edwards said. “But, you cannot give or receive informed consent when you are asleep, highly intoxicated or drugged.”
To draw attention to the individual’s importance in preventing sexual violence, Edwards presented the audience with this scenario: say you’re at a party and you see two individuals kissing in the corner of the room. You can tell they’re both too drunk to be giving and receiving consent, but you don’t know these people and they’re making out, so you don’t want to interrupt. What would you do?
“What if you found out the next day that the interaction you saw led to one of those people getting sexually assaulted,” Edwards said. “Wouldn’t you do anything to go back in time and step in, even if it meant being awkward for a couple of minutes?”
To end his speech, Edwards left the audience with some food for thought in the form of a quote he heard from a presentation on sexual violence.
“‘I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful,’” Edwards said. “Being optimistic shows that there is some potential for change, but there isn’t, and we have the numbers to prove that. But being hopeful requires no such numbers and being hopeful means that I believe in our capacity to better educate our communities on the topic of sexual violence.”