Break the Silence: Low Reporting of Sexual Assaults Enables Repeat Offenders

By BETINA GOSE

Clery Act Statistics Provide Valuable Insight

College is a place for learning, growing and expanding our minds. It’s a preparatory affair and during our four – sometimes more – years here, we hope to gain the knowledge and skills we need for “the real world.”

But college can also be a place where sexual assaults take place. According to Clery Act statistics, two sexual assault offenses were reported to the Kennesaw State University Public Safety Department in 2011, compared to seven at the University of Georgia. In 2012, four sexual assault cases were reported to KSU PSD and 12 were reported at UGA. Admittedly, for two colleges of 24,100 and 34,475 students respectively, those numbers don’t really sound all that high. They also don’t tell the whole story.

As it turns out, special emphasis should be placed on “reported.” The vast majority of sexual assault crimes goes unreported and therefore never enters public awareness. According to the Office for Victims of Crime, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice, as few as 12 percent of college rape victims report the assault to police. Studies suggest that the true number of sexual assault incidents is much higher than our Clery Act statistics reveal. In fact, according to the OVC, nearly 20 percent of women and 6 percent of men will be victims of sexual assault during their college years.

A conversation with Emily Ramirez, coordinator for the Women’s Resource & Interpersonal Violence Prevention Center, reveals that more cases of sexual assault involving KSU students do occur in the course of a year, however, because the incidents happened entirely off the KSU campus and are therefore not reportable under the Clery Act requirements, those numbers never become part of the statistics.

Ramirez, who says she has seen six victims of sexual assault that happened off campus since she started as coordinator in February 2012, is currently part of a joint effort by several KSU departments named the Taskforce on Interpersonal Violence, including the Health Clinic, the Counseling & Psychological Services, the Dean of Students and the Title IX Coordinator to encourage students to “Break the Silence,” a message that will be displayed on posters going up in all bathrooms on campus.

Acquaintance Rape Most Common Type of Sexual Assault

Statistics also indicate that most campus sexual assaults are committed by an acquaintance of the victim, a situation referred to as acquaintance or date rape, and this may help explain why so many cases go unreported. Ramirez says that all of the sexual assault cases she has seen belong under the category of acquaintance rape. According to her, another reason that so few cases get reported is the difficulty survivors have in dealing with the investigative part, which, in the case of acquaintance rape, often ends up being a “he said, she said” kind of ordeal.

“In addition to dealing with the assault, survivors have to deal with the investigative part, which can be quite difficult,” Ramirez said. “They’re asked about details [during the course of the investigation] and victims already have a lot of guilt and self-blame to deal with.” She estimates that 50 percent of the cases she has seen have been formally reported.

Captain Kelli Maloney at the KSU Public Safety Department, who oversees Clery Act statistics for KSU, also expressed agreement that crime statistics don’t necessarily show the whole picture.

“Based on the type of assaults [these sexual assaults at KSU] are, where the person knows the attacker, I would say there are probably a lot more that don’t get reported,” Maloney said.

When a sexual assault crime is reported to KSU PSD, either by students themselves, the health clinic or the counseling center, special attention is paid to the circumstances surrounding the assault to ensure that the attacker is not an ongoing threat to the campus.

“If it’s isolated and we know that [the victim and the attacker] know each other, chances are that it’s not a threat to the campus. But they let us know, just in case we see a pattern,” said Lt. Bernadette Haynes of the Community Policing Unit, hinting at the fact that most rapists are repeat offenders – a fact with which Ramirez also expressed agreement.

“The majority of students would never sexually assault another human being, however, there are a few cancerous ones, who do it again and again,” Ramirez said, highlighting the reason why it is so important to report these crimes.

Myths of Sexual Assault

Many myths accompany sexual assault, or rape, and because of this, many victims may find themselves questioning whether the rape was “their fault.” According to the Safe and Sound handbook from the KSU PSD, a situation in which the rapist overpowers and dominates another person, who does NOT consent to the sexual act, is always considered rape – regardless of whether the victim knows his or her attacker. The victim is never ever responsible for rape.

Among the legal rights stated in the “Federal Campus Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 1991,” are the rights to have the assault investigated and adjudicated (resolved) and the right to be free from any suggestion that the victim was contributory, negligent or that the victim assumed the risk of being assaulted.

The KSU PSD strongly urges anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to report the crime as soon as possible. Beyond the initial report and investigation, several resources are available, including medical assistance, counseling and temporary protective orders. According to Haynes, the KSU PSD will provide victims with the help they need.

“We’ll ask if they want escorts on campus; if they’re ready for it, we’ll offer them to take one of our self-defense classes, so they can be better prepared if anything unfortunate were to happen again,” Haynes said.

Generally, students who are arrested by KSU police are sent through the Cobb County Court System for trial and sentencing, and if he or she has violated the Student Code of Conduct, the student will also face KSU judicial charges from the department of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, which may result in suspension or expulsion from KSU. Convicted sex offenders must register with the State of Georgia Department of Corrections; for a list of registered sex offenders, visit http://gbi.georgia.gov/georgia-sex-offender-registry.

Unquestionably, for all students on campus to be able to fully protect themselves and take the necessary precautions, they need accurate and reliable information. Reporting cases of sexual assault is an important step in ensuring a safe environment for all – one in which we can invest all of our resources into preparing for the future.

Clery Act statistics are an important part of campus safety and they provide a way for students and parents to more accurately assess the kind of risks that are linked to any particular campus. By reporting crimes, students can help make sure that those statistics provide a detailed, accurate picture of campus crime activity. They can also help ensure that attackers are not allowed to continue to walk among us on campus.

More information about resources and assistance for victims of sexual assault and KSU’s Clery Act crime statistics for 2009, 2010 and 2011 are available in the Safe and Sound Annual Security Report available at http://www.kennesaw.edu/police/frames.html. Hard copies of the report are available at the KSU PSD, located on campus across the Social Sciences Building. For KSU’s Women’s Resource & Interpersonal Violence Prevention Center, call 770-794-7858. For the Health Clinic, call 770-423-6644 and for the Counseling & Psychological Services, call 770-423-6600.

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