There are a lot of ways to address sexual assault on college campuses. Warning students to watch the facial expressions they make isn't one of them.
Yet that's what students at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah, New Jersey, were faced with during an hourlong presentation on alcohol use and sexual assault that focused heavily on what women could do to avoid being assaulted, according to the Ramapo News.
The presentation included tips from the school's Substance Abuse & Violence Prevention coordinator Cory Rosenkranz, who advised students on how to dress, how much to drink and how to use body language that would lessen the chances of assault.
Disturbingly, Rosenkranz even recommended that women practice their facial expressions in front of a mirror to avoid being targeted, according to attendees. Students expressed outrage over what was seen over a misguided effort to shift the burden of sexual assault onto victims.
The reaction: The presentation's focus on what the victim should be doing rather than what the perpetrator shouldn't be doing — committing acts of sexual assault — drew criticism from students, faculty and alumni.
"She was saying that women need to watch their body language and that women should practice how they articulate their face [in a social setting] by practicing in the mirror," student Brandon Molina told the Ramapo News. "My thought the whole time was maybe women shouldn't practice how long they're blinking, men should just not rape people."
Ramapo defended the presentation, with the director of the school's Center for Health and Counseling Services telling the Ramapo News that it "educates students about the elements of healthy relationships, the importance of sexual consent and the role of bystanders in creating safe, healthy communities."
A real problem: As many as 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted during their time at college, and more students practicing their facial expressions is unlikely to bring that horrifying figure down.
As more attention gets paid to the issue, though, some changes are looking positive. That includes a big rise in sexual assault reports — which may seem like a bad thing, but experts say it just means more victims feel comfortable coming forward, not that assaults are necessarily increasing.
Sexual assault prevention needs to stop being a burden schools place on potential victims. The minute a victim is told there was something she (or he) should have done — essentially blaming them for their own traumatic assault — is the minute you lose credibility.