Sexual assault on college campuses is an unfortunately common occurrence, yet victims rarely ever report being sexually assaulted to law enforcement or school administration.
The college-aged demographic is the most at risk to be sexually assaulted, yet these and students rarely report their assaults. The reasons for choosing not to report vary; in some instances, the victim is unsure whether or not the incident was actually a sexual assault, or they felt that the attack was a personal matter and did not want to involve the authorities or their school in the matter. Regardless of the circumstances, victims of sexual assault rarely come forward, out of shame or fear they choose to keep their attacks a secret.
In some cases, the victims do not report due to not considering the incident serious enough to warrant involving the authorities or administration, or due to a lack of evidence During a sexual assault, they may not have even realized what was happening and consider the events to be normal. From their perspective, the actions of the assailant may have been viewed as harmless and although unwelcomed, are not acknowledged as an assault. The majority of sexual assaults on college campuses occur in private locations with limited or even no witnesses present, and while under the influence of alcohol, resulting in the victim’s reluctance to come forward
Confusion on the definition of Consent
96% of college students are ill-informed on what the official definition of consent is, resulting in confusion over whether or not their interactions with an assailant constitutes sexual assault in the eyes of the law. The nuances of consent are complex; in a survey conducted by the Washington Post three years ago, forty percent of both recent and current college students considered consent to be established solely by a verbal “yes”, while the other forty percent felt that consent could be implied by body language and actions. The victims of sexual assault often blame themselves for the attack, assuming that they had consented through their body language, choosing not to report the incident to authorities.
Over fifty percent of sexual assaults within the graduate and undergraduate population occur during the initial months of the academic year. For incoming students, who have most likely never received training or education on consent, this statistic can explain why students do not report. They have not learned what constitutes consent, effectively lacking the knowledge of what a consensual sexual encounter looks like. This lack of awareness leads the victim to believe that the encounter was consensual despite the fact that they had never given verbal consent.
Embarrassed by assailant’s breach of Trust
Another key factor in the underreporting of sexual assault is the relationship between the assailant and the victim assailant to some degree whether it be through friends, sharing a class together or in an intimate relationship. Due to these relationships, victims are reluctant to come forward, in fear of disrupting their social circles well. The victim is reluctant to speak out due to the risk of losing their friends, or not being believed by them. The risk of disrupting their circle of friends and the outlying community of the campus overrules the desire to report the attack.
Due to the toxic culture of blaming the victim, students do not report, fearing judgment from law enforcement or from their universities. Law enforcement frequently blames the victim, asking questions such as how much they drank, what they were wearing and the manner of their interactions with the men who later sexually assaulted them. In the cases where victims do report to officials or administration, they are either ignored or chastised for their actions. Often times the schools attempt to blame the incident on the actions of the victim as was the case during the trial of a rape case at Yale University. Throughout the trial, the victims dress, actions and alcohol consumption were relentlessly scrutinized by the defense attorney in their attempt to shift the blame onto the victim.
Society inadvertently conditions victims to not rely on people in positions of power to help them in the event of sexual assault. Instances like Yale University and the Stanford Swimmer rape trial show us that the victim’s story is constantly being challenged and met with resistance. Time after time, victims have learned that if they report most likely nothing will be done on the part of the school or law enforcement.