It Happens: A Call for Sex Education

OCA's Features Editor Isabella Farr calls for proactive and reactive sexual assault resources and education at NYU Shanghai.

For information about Sexual Misconduct policies and procedures, as well as resources available, please see here.

Since NYU Shanghai opened its doors in 2013, the Department of Public Safety has reported that there has been one instance of alleged sexual misconduct. Currently, exactly 1073 students attend NYU Shanghai, with an additional 88 study away students enrolled this semester. Accounting for the juniors and seniors studying abroad, right now, there are more or less 963 students roaming hallways, in and out of dormitory rooms, planning out their weekends, and hauling themselves to their apartments in Puxi. The fact that only one instance of sexual misconduct, assault, or rape, has occurred or has been reported since 2013 is not only statistically absurd, but is also a serious misrepresentation of issues that occur on our campus, and undeniably false.

Through this Public Safety report, the NYU Shanghai community is neglecting a real, raw, and painful issue that torments every college campus around the world. The report fails to convince me that every single student at NYU Shanghai is incapable of committing such immoral, disgusting, and crude acts.

As a U.S.-accredited university, there are certain statistics regarding sexual assault on college campuses that severely detract from the current existing report. Specifically, “The Hunting Ground” – a Netflix documentary about sexual assault on U.S. college campuses – cited studies stating between 20 and 25 percent of undergraduate women are sexually assaulted while in college. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) in the United States, every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted. These statistics do not only apply to women either. According to a National Crime Victimization Survey in 2013, 38 percent of victims of sexual violence and assault were male. While one may argue that we are an international university, these statistics are not unique to the United States. In Australia, national sexual assault rates are the highest in seven years, with women being 12 times more likely to experience sexual assault. According to a study conducted by the United Nations in China, one in seven women had been victims of attempted rape. If these statistics are not alarming enough as it is, most studies also acknowledge the difficulty of collecting data on sexual misconduct, assault, and rape.

The fact that NYU Shanghai is underreporting crimes is disgusting and heartbreaking and undermines the fact that these acts are perpetrated in every community around the world. Sexual assault affects everyone and it’s about time we gave it the attention it deserves.

With confidence, I stand by the fact that the NYU Shanghai Public Safety report is inherently mistaken. It undermines and disrespects the women and men at this school who have been assaulted, because their experiences weren’t serious enough to make it onto the pages of public record. While it may be that only one instance has ever reached the top of the bureaucratic ladder, is that not a problem? Either this ladder has too many rungs or we are letting reports fall through cracks.

“The Hunting Ground,” in addition to providing a wealth of alarmingly brutal statistics, is honest about the reasons victims often stay quiet. Especially on college campuses, where communities are small, victims face the horror of seeing their perpetrator over and over again. In other cases, the situation may not have originally screamed ‘rape’ or ‘assault.’ Combined with other issues, such as fear of reliving the incident, not knowing proper protocol, or fear of being blamed, college students are obviously less likely to be forthright about incidents. At NYU Shanghai, these issues are exacerbated. Is a girl meant to avoid the Jinqiao buses, as to not feel her heart be ripped out of her chest when she sees him? Is a boy meant to just sit calmly, while his assaulter sits four seats away in Global Perspectives on Society? The terrifying truth is that you’re bound to run into your attacker again. As a reason not to report, there is also a rational fear that the incident may never stay private – gossip floods the halls and it’s not unreasonable to think people may start talking.

At least at other colleges in the United States, and across the world, there may be easier mechanisms to separate victim and assaulter. You may be able to move out of your dormitory, change classes, even avoid the classroom you know they would be in at 2:30 pm on a Tuesday. Unfortunately, as distressing as it is, the college campus may be large enough for the two of you to coexist – at least until some form of permanent solution is made. Not here

If reports are not making it to the top levels of the administration, let alone to the public, we are letting perpetrators roam these halls, with their victims forced to endure the burn of their name and the gut-wrenching anxiety sparked by their physical presence.

But perhaps, if I cannot blame the administration not for their reporting, I instead look to their complete disregard for sex education. Without adequate sex education, where students are taught to speak up and call out assault, NYU Shanghai refuses to create a comfortable reporting environment.

Over the past three and a half years, I have had exactly three formal discussions surrounding proper protocol for sexual misconduct, sexual assault, and rape. One was during orientation – a brief presentation – the second was the NYU Sexual Misconduct Training, and one was during studying abroad orientation. Studying away at both NYU Washington, D.C., and NYU New York, I walked around hallways plastered with posters detailing resources – how to report an incident, how to acknowledge an incident, and most of all, how to define consent. A year later, I roam around the hallways of the Academic Building and find absolutely no reference to sex education. In the Jinqiao dorms, there is not one poster plastered up discussing safe sex, consent, or specific resources for sexual assault victims. One freshman student, when asked, told me to actually get a condom at the Jinqiao dorms, they presumed you would have to ask someone at the Residential Life desk.

And when NYU Shanghai does decide that it’s ‘time’ to talk about sexual violence, a game is made out of it. When a member of the NYU Shanghai Student Life staff approaches me and asks if I want to walk in heels in the cafeteria – and perhaps take a photo or two! – I feel a deep, deep shame for even being slightly associated with this community. The idea that a woman has to be in heels to be assaulted, or that walking in heels for two minutes gives absolutely any insight into how a victim of sexual assault feels, is shameful.

The fact that this failed display of sympathy and understanding was the first and only formal – and partly student-organized – mention that I have heard of at NYU Shanghai this year exacerbates the problem. Why, as a victim of sexual assault, would anyone feel comfortable talking about it in this community when it is seen as trivial? Why would anyone feel comfortable reporting it here, especially when it is seen as some compulsory annual conversation that requires no further discussion? Why would anyone report it when they may not even know what sexual assault looks like?

So, I present to you, an unofficial guideline, handbook, liferaft, to what consent looks like. It looks like a hard yes. An unapologetic and enthusiastic yes. It is unconditional and revocable. If you decide literally 90 seconds later that sex sounds like the worst possible thing in the entire world, or that you’re even 1 percent uncomfortable with the idea, take it back. Ladies and gentleman, you can take your consent back!

We should be teaching 18-year-old girls and boys that it’s okay to say no, that no means no – not that if you get in a taxi in Shanghai after 9 pm you’re just likely to be assaulted. That anything besides consent is assault. To any one of you where that is not the law in your country, I introduce you to new rules to live by. Sexual assault resources and education at NYU Shanghai, and everywhere else, should be proactive and reactive.

It’s time for some serious, unprecedented, and non-taboo sex education at NYU Shanghai. It’s time we woke up to the idea that sexual assault happens. It happens to our peers, our friends, our loved ones, and it happens here.

For the girls who walk with one headphone in instead of two, who were taught never to walk alone at night. For the girls who were taught to watch their drinks. For the boys who felt too ashamed to speak up, because being vulnerable isn’t masculine. For the victims, who thought their stories were too soft to tell, too unbelievable, or who were too consumed with the terror of reliving, this is for you.

This article was written by Isabella Farr. Please send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Creative Commons

2 thoughts on “It Happens: A Call for Sex Education

  1. Was sexually assaulted in freshman year… Reported it to health and wellness who replied in an email two fucking weeks later that there was nothing they could do to help and only advice given was if I want to report it to talk to David Pe and I would lose anonymity if I did… There are 300 kids per grade, coming out is like a death sentence as one way or another everyone will find out…. Sad thing is he has sexually assaulted 4+ people on campus, everyone is just too scared to report it ): …

  2. I agree with all of this. Sexual misconduct is an issue that the school regards as one those things that just “don’t happen here” and when it does, it is swept under the rug to maintain the school’s image and brand, all at the expense of the students.

    Also, I definitely agree that the “walk in her shoes” thing was a terrible idea. In addition to the points that you mentioned and the fact that it was just a generally uncomfortable display, it also further enforced the idea that only women are victims of sexual assault.

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