A culture of rape: What can we do as doctors?

Around the U.S., millions of college age kids head back to start their fall semester in college. Their courses carefully selected months ago and their packing completed in a frenzy of activity. But, little thought is given to the most violent crime that happens on college campuses: rape and sexual abuse.  Estimates show that approximately 25 percent of college women have been victims of rape. In fact, every 21 hours a woman is raped on a college campus somewhere in the U.S.  The most likely times these occur are during the first few weeks of the freshman and sophomore years.

The media is full of these horror stories. And as doctors, we are often left to fix the broken souls after the rape or sexual assault occurs.  As a society, not only the medical profession, we need to stand up and take a more active role in preventing these incidents from happening. This culture of rape is destroying young women’s lives. And often the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished.

What can we do as doctors?

  • We need to be aware of the rape culture that is occurring at an increasing frequency on college campuses around the US.
  • We need to take the lead on spreading the statistics and not leave it in the hands of journalists. Our nation’s young people deserve better.
  • As a primary care physician, I often see these teens for their pre-college physicals. We need to raise awareness of this modern-day problem.
  • Our profession should be taking a sharp stance against the illegal use of drugs and prescription medications.
  • No one should ever be blamed if it happens to them. It doesn’t matter how much alcohol they drank or if they used drugs. No always means no.
  • The buddy program should be encouraged. College kids need to be watching out for one another. This may be the first time they are away from their parents.
  • Victims should receive our empathy, not just rape kit testing. The psychological scars far outlast any physical trauma or diseases. Keep judgment out of the exam room.

I am often shocked when I hear patients tell me they were raped or sexually assaulted 8, 9, 10 or more years ago, and they did nothing about it. The guilty person walks away with no repercussions while the victims suffer for a lifetime. Society ought to remedy the fact that the victims are often cast as the guilty one, maybe for the way they dressed or flirted. As long as college men, as most often is the case, do not get penalized for their crimes it will continue.

As doctors, we see the damage these crimes cause. It is no longer alright to treat the physical wounds while ignoring the rest. This is one of the fastest growing public and mental health issues of our current times. It is going to take a concerted team effort to change the rules of the game: from educators to college deans to law enforcement officers. And yes medical professionals.  It is time we stop allowing this criminal game and create a new game plan.

Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

View 50 Comments >

Get KevinMD's 5 most popular stories.