It was part of my initiation into the Villanova culture—learning the new language of my campus. Throughout my first several days at Villanova, I learned the nicknames and abbreviations of several parts of campus, names that the student body collectively used: Donohue Hall became The Spit, and the black and white statue in the middle of campus became The Oreo. Yet in learning this new language and discovering this culture, nothing stood out to me more than hearing the term “Rape Trail” for the first time.
As a freshman, I did not know my way around campus very well, and I had asked a student for directions from Main to South Campus. He told me, “You have to take the Rape Trail.”
My immediate reaction was surprise, followed by a strong sense of discomfort. Although I had been surprised at the name, I was more struck by the casual way in which he said it, and the ease with which students across campus use the colloquialism. The student quickly assured me that no one had actually been raped on the trail and it was just a nickname students had given it due to its poor lighting and isolation. There was no danger meant by the name. After all, it was only a phrase, and no harm can come from a few catchy words.
This largely seems to be the mindset behind using the term “Rape Trail,” or even using the word “rape” in casual conversation (e.g., “I was raped by that calculus test”). A word is only a word. Yet if we do not consider the broader implications of these words, we risk crossing into the dangerous territory of complicity, becoming involved in perpetrating a culture that trivializes rape.
Think beyond South Campus and its Trail for a moment. Young adults are bombarded by sexual expectations, from their peers, from their significant others, from the pop culture that deeply permeates society. Often, rape and sexual pressure are not only reflected, but glorified in the music we hear, the movies and television we watch, the books we read, and the video games we play, condoning a horrific act of force and violence. These expectations have influenced our own culture, turning rape into “just another word” that has penetrated the vernacular of college campuses, often through terms such as the Rape Trail.
Unfortunately, not only the word “rape” is rampant on college campuses. According to Villanova’s Health Promotion page on its website, one in four college women have been victims of sexual assault. Imagine if all of the women in the Villanova Class of 2013 were victims of sexual assault—this real Rape Trail on campus would be far more terrifying than a poorly lit patch of pavement. Of course, rape affects both men and women, and one in seven men are victims, as well. How many people on Villanova’s campus have been impacted by sexual violence? What have students been forced to contend with through these actions? It is easy to quote a few statistics—far less so to understand the suffering that results from rape, a first degree felony in which an individual is threatened or forced against their will, or is without the ability to resist, to engage in sexual intercourse.
Why would we want any part of our campus to reflect this?
Rape is neither a myth nor an unimportant matter, and the lore of our student body should not imply that it is. The Trail is not a story about a fictitious Headless Horseman who preys on unsuspecting students walking back to their dorms at night. This is about something very, frighteningly real. By using the term “Rape Trail” casually, we turn rape into a casual issue, underestimating a heinous crime that has traumatized millions of men and women, including members of this campus. By using the term “Rape Trail,” we become complicit in creating and perpetrating a culture that, at best, turns a blind eye to a very serious problem, and at worst, condones a terrible act of force and violence. By using the term “Rape Trail,” students offer their implied consent to this trivialization of rape. Does such a trivialization embolden potential rapists? If someone is actually sexually violated on the Rape Trail, should he/she “have known better”? Are victims less likely to defend themselves or speak out in a culture that can turn rape into a joke?
Is this a risk we should be willing to take?
We have the power to address such deeply ingrained problems. We can change this culture from one of complicity to one that recognizes rape as the heinous crime that it is. We can support a culture that does not take advantage of someone who may not be in the best mental or physical condition to give consent. We can choose to not judge others and make assumptions about their sexual willingness based on the way they choose to dress. We cannot imply our consent to the trivialization of a crime by casually using the word “rape” in conversation or to describe a physical part of our campus.
We Villanovans are better than this. Let’s prove it.