By Emma Payne Murphy
The unfortunate truth about sexual assault, especially on college campuses, is that the majority of cases go unreported; the issues raised by sexual assault get swept under the rug, and remain unresolved. Take a moment, and look around you. Out of the people that surround you, can you with absolute certainty determine who is a victim of sexual assault? No, of course you can’t, but just because victims might not be easily perceived by the naked eye, doesn’t mean they aren’t around you at this very moment in time. Even more importantly, just because victims might not vocalize their need for help and support, doesn’t mean they don’t desperately want it.
The majority of sexual assault cases go unreported because it is one of the hardest cases to prove. Cases of sexual assault on college campuses, if proven true, can result in expulsion of the perpetrator; which, in more than just the victim’s eyes, is not enough of a punishment for the crime committed. That said, only about one-third of campus sexual assault cases result in expulsion, says the Huffington Post.
What many people don’t understand, and I speak from personal experience, is how terrifying it is for a victim of sexual assault to publically announce their traumatic experience. The constant thoughts of “what will people think of me?” or “will anyone believe me?” run through a victim’s head. It is so unimaginably terrifying that most victims choose to suppress the truth, and live their life with weighted shoulders.
Again, from my own personal experience, speaking up about what had happened only made me feel worse. After coming out of a state of shock, I decided to tell a close friend about the assault; his reaction was extremely disappointing. Instead of supporting and comforting me, he blamed me. When the people you trust start to blame you, you begin to question yourself and your intentions to report what happened.
“Some victims view the crime differently if people start blaming them and they, in turn, start to blame themselves. Or, because they are in a closed social structure where everyone knows everybody, they feel that reporting the crime would be going against their peer group,” explains Scott Berkowitz, executive director of the R.A.I.N.N. (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).
Although it comes as no surprise, people are greatly impacted by what other people think and say. If a victim thinks that others will look down on them, or question the validity of their traumatic experience, chances are that victims will do everything in their power to prevent what happened from being exposed. In order for someone to come forth with a case of sexual assault, it is crucial that they feel safe and supported by the people that surround them. Furthermore, it is even more important that the victim feels as though the punishment of the perpetrator will match the physical and emotional damage of the crime itself.
“Today, colleges and universities are frequently required to investigate and judge reported crimes of sexual violence without first involving law enforcement,” reports The Washington Post. The article then discusses how “schools do not possess the investigative and forensic capabilities of law enforcement, or the due process protections of the criminal justice system.” This results in a “deeply flawed process that is less capable of stopping and punishing perpetrators and more likely to violate the basic due-process rights of those involved.” This article, as well as many others, make the point that most colleges’ approach to dealing with sexual assault is “more likely to result in errors that could harm students for the rest of their lives.”
Colleges need to improve on providing a safe and supportive environment that will ensure justice. The best way to do this is to allow law enforcement to become involved when a crime of any sexual violence is reported. According to The Washington Post, “The Safe Campus Act, introduced in the House of Representatives this year, would require that law enforcement authorities have a first look at claims of sexual assault on campus.” This would “provide interim measures to improve student safety, due-process protections for students and student organizations, and for more education to prevent such crimes.” If these measures were taken, college students would feel much safer on a day-to-day basis, and justice would more frequently and rightfully be served.