Shamed into silence: At colleges across the country, sexual violence goes unreported

By Robert Schuster ’16, Hawk Staff

Less than five percent of attempted and completed rapes involving college students are reported to law enforcement officials, according to the 2000 U.S. Department of Justice report, “The Sexual Victimization of College Women.”

There are numerous reasons that cases of sexual violence tend to go unreported to law enforcement officials.

“The criminal justice system … is very harsh on people who come forward,” said Mary-Elaine Perry, Ed. D., assistant vice president of student development and Title IX coordinator at Saint Joseph’s University. Perry added that victims are often reluctant to go through the criminal justice system because they don’t want to “be traumatized again by having to go through putting [themselves] out there publicly … and not being believed, and not being able to prove without a shadow of a doubt.”

Instances of sexual violence involving college students tend to go unreported to officials on college campuses all across the country, according to William Bordak, interim director of community standards.

Bordak explained that it might be difficult for victims of sexual violence and assaults to report their cases because they aren’t sure how to report it and whom they can report to. Victims may also shy away from reporting sexual violence because they don’t know what the definition of sexual violence is. As a result, some victims may not know if what happened to them is considered a true act of sexual violence, according Bordak.

According to the 2005 U.S. Department of Justice report, “Sexual Assault on Campus: What Colleges and Universities Are Doing About It,” in roughly 80 to 90 percent of cases of sexual assault, the victim and the assailant know each other. The report noted that this is a major reason why half of the victims of sexual violence don’t view what happened to them as rape, especially “when no weapon was used, no sign of physical injury is evident, and alcohol was involved—factors commonly associated with campus acquaintance rape.”

Victims of sexual violence may also be reluctant to report or tell their family or friends because they fear what others might think and the stigma surrounding sexual violence, according to Bordak.

According to “The Sexual Victimization of College Women,” in roughly two-thirds of rape cases, the victim did tell someone; however, it was usually a friend and not a family member or college official.

At St. Joe’s, there is no real way of knowing just how many instances of sexual violence go unreported. However, Bordak noted many things that St. Joe’s does in order to encourage and help victims of sexual violence to report their cases.

“I think there’s a number of reasons why people may not report and as a university we try to educate around all of those and provide supports and services,” said Bordak.

Perry also emphasized the importance of educating and training students in order to encourage victims of sexual violence to report their cases. In order to make sure people are aware of the issue of sexual violence, “we do a lot of training with students that we can reach,” said Perry.

The university also tries to make it as easy as possible to report cases of sexual violence. A student who is a victim of sexual violence can report his or her case to the Office of Public Safety and Security. Resident students can also reach out to Residence Life staff members who are always on call and will talk to the student, explained Bordak.

Bordak added that students can visit sju.edu/support for additional resources. There, students can find information on how to report their cases, contact information, and confidential resources they can use.

“Whether [sexual assault] is reported or not, it can be a really traumatic experience for the person to whom it happens,” said Perry. “And sorting it out and getting the support and help they need—whether that is taking it through the judicial process or the courts, or reporting to a confidential resource—that can help them address what happened to them.”

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