Sexual assault: A bigger problem than perceived

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Sam Wall



Sexual assault is very serious and an on-going problem in our country, especially on and around college campuses, and Radford University is no different. 

   Since July 1, 2014 the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, located at 1217 Grove Ave. in Radford, has received 37 complaints of sexual assault from RU students.  Sexual assault, as defined by the 2014-2015 Radford University Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, is forcible rape, sodomy, sexual assault with an object and fondling.  The same report has the data for sexual offenses that occurred between the calendar years of 2011-2013. 

   The first category in the report is “Sex Offenses, Forcible” reported by “hierarchy,” meaning someone other than the student (most likely a faculty member) reported the incident.  For 2011, seven sexual offenses were reported, four in 2012 and seven again in 2013.  The previous figures were assaults that all allegedly occurred on the RU campus.  During that same time, there were no reports by “hierarchy” of sexual offenses occurring off campus. 

   For offenses reported by “non-hierarchy,” there were only two in 2013, both of which allegedly occurred in residential facilities at the school.  For the “non-hierarchy” reports, the category was “Dating Violence,” not “Sex Offenses, Forcible.”

   Although the women’s center data is from the beginning of July 2014 and the safety report statistics are from 2011-2013, it is easy to see that there is some kind of discrepancy in the way victims report sexual assaults.  To me, this is not surprising.  It would make sense that victims would prefer to use the women’s center as a preferred resource, which is an independent facility not affiliated with the school, rather than going to the available options that the university offers.

   The protocol for reporting such incidents, which can also be found in this year’s safety report, is 35 pages long and can be quite confusing at times.  The system for reporting such incidents seems much more invasive than the approach that the women’s center takes. 

   With the current hearing and appeals process that the university has in place, a decision by the committee could end up taking a few months.  And if the accused is found guilty of sexual misconduct, there is still a good chance university sanctions may be their only punishment.

   The women’s center’s approach focuses more on doing what the alleged victim feels most comfortable with, like counseling or involving local authorities, and is confidential if that is the victim’s wish.

    It is also worth noting that the numbers provided by the school may not be indicative of the actual amount of sexual assaults that are taking place on and off of campus. 

     Before Oct. 20, 2014, universities were not required to report allegations of sexual assault in their crime statistics or to higher authorities. Now any allegation must be ran through the universities Title IX coordinator. 

   Independent organizations like the women’s center are not required to report alleged assaults.  Since much of that information was not documented and many victims do not come forward, it is really hard to gage the actual amount of assaults that take place every year.

   Victims might fear that what they say will become public and want to avoid the publicity.  Also, victims may be frightened that they could have to face their attacker again if they go through the university’s current process, making them less likely to report sexual assaults.

   According to a survey that was conducted in 2000 by the National Institute of Justice, 9 out of 10 victims of rape and sexual assault knew their offender.  That is an alarming rate that was very surprising to discover.

    Women are often given advice to travel in groups when attending parties or other functions, especially ones involving alcohol.  But that can only be so effective, especially if offenders committing the majority of attacks are someone the victim already knows and may even consider a friend.

    It is never the victim’s fault in a sexual assault case, but there are things that you can do to help protect yourself when going out at night to parties or other events involving alcohol.  Going out with a group of friends is always a good idea, as is avoiding alcoholic beverages offered to you that you did not pour yourself.

    I do agree that schools should have to report these types of allegations to law enforcement, but why are all the other procedures necessary?  It is not the university’s place to decide on criminal matters.  This is not something that is unique to RU by any means.  Most schools have similar procedures and have to follow the provisions set by Title IX. The most effective way to reduce the alarmingly high rate of sexual assaults on campus is for the victim to contact authorities after they have been attacked as soon as possible.  Having physical evidence such as physical injuries or DNA evidence is the most effective way to prove a sexual assault has been committed against an individual.

   I understand that victims of sexual assault go through an array of emotions and trauma when dealing with the after effects of such a brutal act of violence, and I’m not going to even try to pretend that I have any idea what that must be like.

   But the only way to stop this type of violence is to hold these vial human beings accountable for their disgusting acts.  And for better or worse, it seems our society is moving towards the trend of needing more than just the victim’s testimony.  Recent media debacles, like the one the Rolling Stone UVA article caused, is making it even harder for victims to come forward after the fact. 

   It is not something that is going to change overnight.  A safe and secure environment where victim’s can go get the medical attention they need as quickly as possible needs to be on the forefront of colleges everywhere.

  Through terrible journalism and the grave mishandling of alleged attacks by universities and local law enforcement, we have unfortunately become a society that determines guilt or innocence on such a serious crime based on anything other than evidence?  If a drastic change in official policy and the way many victims go about reporting alleged assaults doesn’t happen soon, the problem will only get worse. 

   Do we really want to continue to live in a culture where guilt or innocence of a crime as serious as rape is determined on circumstantial evidence and a broken system? 

   Without change we are only hurting the innocent, whether that is the victim or the falsely accused and that really is a tragedy.