Stigma surrounds sexual assault

Tori Roper
Staff Writer

Alyse Nelson
Features Editor

According to a report by the National Institute of Justice, 20-25 percent of women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape during their college careers. And 33.7 percent of these rapes will occur on campus.
For the 2013-2014 school year, no incidents were reported in the Troy University Clery Report.
“Is it something as an administrator I want to hear? No,” said Herbert Reeves, dean of student services, of rape on campus. “But it is a reality.”
“The problem we have here is we may have issues that are reported to the counseling center but the victim does not want to make a (police) report,” he said. “They fear for potential retaliation.”
Reeves said that those who go to the police after a rape are “few and far between.”
He noted that there are several reasons why victims may not wish to report a rape, and why victims on the Troy campus specifically might be hesitant.
“Troy is a smaller campus — more people know each other,” he said. “There’s this culture that ‘if I do report it, especially if it involves a young man of a particular group or organization, will I be ostracized?’”
Reeves said that he wants the attitude toward sexual assault on campus to change.
“There’s no justification for sexual assault to occur,” he said. “Alcohol is not an excuse. The way the young lady may dress is not an excuse.
“If you’re a victim, you’re a victim.”
Reeves said that changes are being made on campus to help victims.
The Clery Report, the yearly report on campus crime, is now required to contain cases of domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.
He said that students should practice bystander intervention. If someone sees a crime occurring anywhere, he or she should call the police if he cannot stop it, according to Reeves.
“We’re trying to get people to be engaged,” he said. “I think the challenge here is to get people to a comfort zone in reporting.”
“We cannot refuse anybody to make a report if they want to have it on file,” Reeves said. “I don’t think many young ladies would report something like that without something having happened.”
“If they’re not comfortable going to the police first, go to the counseling center or go here,” he said. “Wherever their comfort level is.”
Reeves said that the university’s main concern in the case of rape is with the victim.
“This is something we take very seriously — our concern is twofold,” he said. “First is that the victim is protected and taken care of. Second is that the person that is committing these acts is removed from the university environment.
“The most important thing is the victim. We do everything we can — counseling, assistance in a hearing, temporary suspension (of the accused).”
Reeves said that the Troy University students arrested last semester in connection with a rape in Panama City, Florida, are still suspended and not allowed to return to campus because they never requested a hearing from the school.
“It’s the reality that those things are going to occur, and we need to be reporting,” he said. “I would encourage people, that when things happen, to report them.”
Reeves said that every assault reported at Troy appears on the Clery Report and that Troy University has been audited by the Department of Education in the past and no problems were found.
“Only 1 in 10 cases of sexual assault are reported nationally,” said Fran Scheel, S.A.V.E. Project coordinator. “This is consistent with Troy University.”
According to Scheel, sexual assault is a largely underreported crime.
“Many women who are sexually assaulted do not realize that their situations are classified as rape,” Scheel said. “They fear not being believed, thus being victimized again by society.”
According to Scheel, physical evidence is an important part of being able to prosecute the perpetrator.
“A sexual assault examination kit is crucial,” Scheel said. “It can be performed at any emergency room.”
Troy Regional Medical Center is supplied with the examination kits.
“It is more difficult, but not impossible, to prosecute without physical evidence,” Scheel said.
Scheel said that evidence can be compromised when the victim showers or washes his or her clothes before being examined by a doctor.
Many students choose not to report attacks if they had been drinking, according to Scheel.
“Our primary concern is for the safety of the victim and to hold the perpetrator accountable,” she said. “Alcohol and underage drinking are not our primary concerns in a situation like sexual assault.”
Acquaintance rape involves sexual assault in which the victim knows the perpetrator.
“They may not want to get the perpetrator in trouble,” Scheel said. “The victim has to understand that the perpetrator made his choices and should be held responsible.”
“We strongly encourage them to report it, but we cannot force them into doing so,” Scheel said.
“We can initiate the report with the university police or go with the victim if they would feel more comfortable,” she said.
The Student Counseling Center offers free and confidential counseling as well as a place to recover.
“Students should understand that their names will not be released if they report a sexual assault crime,” Scheel said.
Each year, the Sexual Assault and Violence Education (S.A.V.E.) Project receives federal grants that the university matches financially, according to Scheel.
“There is an understood importance by the university for this project,” Scheel said.
“The stigma associated with sexual assault all boils down to the issue of blame,” said Abena Adaboh, a sophomore biomedical sciences major from Kumasi, Ghana, and president of the campus organization Women’s Initiative.
“No one wants be held responsible for anything: neither the school or administration for not setting up enough security measures to protect students nor the perpetrators, who are usually students,” she said. “Accepting responsibility or even recognizing when a sexual assault has occurred often means school administrations have to enact some changes in addition to punishing the culprit — which would be great, except that some higher ups view that as tarnishing a school’s reputation or hurting the future of the culprit.”
Adaboh also noted alcohol’s involvement in some attacks.
“There is alcohol involved in many cases of sexual assault, which makes the account of events murky,” she said. “Rather than receiving whatever psychological, physical or legal help needed, some victims have to endure people questioning their judgment for putting themselves in unsavory situations, getting intoxicated or not being modest enough.
“Basically the blame gets shifted back to the victim, and that’s when the stigma arises.”
Adaboh was not sure whether Troy is an exception in the blame shifts.
“From what I’ve seen and heard so far, sexual assaults don’t appear to be as common on Troy campus as on other campuses, but I could be dead wrong,” she said. “Maybe the victims don’t feel comfortable speaking up.”

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