Why Don’t Campus Assault Victims Report The Crimes?

There was an article in Time magazine recently about problems, as they saw it, with rape victims not reporting the crimes to police. That continues to be one of the two biggest problems associated with sexual assaults on campus nationwide.. The age-old factoid of only one in ten women reporting these crimes is the major conundrum. Why are so few sexual assaults ever reported?

It should be noted that sexual assault anywhere is a felony and once convicted the perpetrator’s reputation could be ruined for life.

How Frequent Is Sexual Assault?

The most common number for sexual assaults on campus is one out of every five women will experience it in her four years at a University. It is very common and thus a big problem.

Anecdotal evidence that was in a Miami Herald story about botched investigations  of campus sexual assaults an ex-student at the University Of North Carolina was quoted as saying “We’re told to follow a set of rules: walk home from the library with keys in hand and glance over your shoulder often. Keep pepper spray nearby. Never, ever, go to parties and bars alone.”

Those are good tips for anyone, anywhere but especially for young women on college campuses. More importantly, it is indicative of the culture on a college campus. It might as well have a warning “hazardous to your health.”

The article went on to hypothesize the reasons why. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) held hearings recently where a group of sexual assault victim advocates and law enforcement experts in sex crimes met to talk about how law enforcement and school administrators can better handle campus sexual assaults.

It has long been our contention that school administrators should not be involved in the process in the first place, mostly because they have a “dog in the hunt” so to speak. They have a vested interest in making sure that a negative outcome to any investigation does not occur. There’s too much at stake involving the University reputation-not only with fundraising, but also with admissions-both lifeblood arteries for the schools.

Typically Universities have swept these problems under the rug. That is a contributing factor to why so few people report crimes in the first place. Once students know that not much is going to happen if they do report the crime, they are more likely not to report it.
Shouldn’t these serious crimes be dealt with by the police? More than likely at some point, college administrators and local police officials will have to work together for an effective solution for prosecution of these crimes.

It is a complicated issue trying to balance the victim’s right to privacy and an investigation including evidence collected from the victim early in the process. One thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that the current system is broken and needs to be fixed. How? That is the question!

One student at the hearing told the panel “When I reported violence to my school, I was told not to go to police. But I never would have told [the school] if I knew I was going to be forced into that option.”

A 2007 Study done by the U.S. Department of Justice that surveyed 5,446 undergraduate women and 1,375 undergraduate men at two large public universities in the South and the Midwest, found that “only just 2% of sexual assault victims who were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol and just 13% of ‘physically forced’ victims reported the crimes to law enforcement.”

So the question remains, why do so few victims report the crimes to police?

The hearings actually revealed some common answers.

  1. The most common answer as revealed by the DOJ study was that most victims didn’t want anyone to know. There is a stigma associated with reporting equivalent to becoming a social pariah. More than likely the perpetrator is known on campus and may even live in the same dorm or a hall as the victim.
  2. The second most common answer was, believe it or not, these young women did not understand what constitutes rape because it was unclear to them that it was a crime or that harm was intended. Since the perpetrator is known to the victim in 90% of the cases there is a “sense of denial or disbelief that it happened.”
  3. The third most common reason is that victims believe that their report will be tainted with notes of incredulity mostly due to the fact that they were drunk or high on drugs and can’t remember pertinent details.
  4. Finally, victims know that going through a public trial can be extremely intimidating for a victim. And the low rate of conviction historically is a big negative leading victims to decide it isn’t worth the risk or the trouble. According to research by the US Department of Justice, only 18% of reported rapes result in a conviction.

Have you ever been assaulted on campus? Please share your experience. We want to hear your thoughts.