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Schools, Sexual Assault & Silence

It’s important to note that the occurrences, as well as victims, of sexual assault spans all social, economic and, even, gender barriers.

Elizabeth Hoyt

May 23, 2013

Schools, Sexual Assault & Silence
It’s an issue that has a large scope – so much so that it’s difficult to comprehend. It’s alarming to learn that one in five college women will become a victim of attempted sexual assault or actual sexual assault during their college years, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report. It’s even more alarming to learn that around 80 percent of sexual assault victims know their assailant, compared to the 20 percent of sexual assaults considered “opportunistic,” a fact reported by the National Institute of Justice.

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More than 90 percent of sexual assaults on U.S. campuses remain unreported, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition to the devastating facts, this issue has recently been highlighted within the news, for both positive and negative happenings.

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It’s important to note that the occurrences, as well as victims, of sexual assault spans all social, economic and, even, gender barriers.
Know the facts:
• 80% of sexual assault and rape victims are under the age of 30

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• College freshman and sophomore women are found to be at greater risk of sexual assault than upperclassmen
• 84% of women who report sexual assault experienced the incident within their first four semesters on campus
• Students living in sorority houses and on campus dormitories are up to three times more likely to be raped than students living off-campus
Fraternity men have been identified as more likely to perpetrate sexual assault or sexual aggression than non-fraternity men
• 90% of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol
• 30% of the college women who said they had been raped contemplated suicide after the incident
(Statistics reported from a “Sexual Assault Statistics” article on Campus Safety Magazine’s web site.)

Why does sexual assault continue to be dominant issue on college campuses?

Imagine you’re a college freshman. You’re on your own for the first time and have never felt the need to distrust those around you. You are trying to find a balance between celebrating your independence and being irresponsible. In the process, you meet new friends and experiment with new, risky behaviors that alter your state-of-mind, like drugs and alcohol. It’s easy to see, in black and white, how the situation can easily turn against students. Many, however, don’t make those connections until it’s too late. Perhaps it’s a lack of knowledge, preparedness or misunderstanding the definition of “consent.” Or, perhaps, there isn't a lack of anything and a victim is just caught off guard. The thought, however, is that if any assaults can be prevented through knowledge, shouldn't schools attempt to educate? Rather than waiting for institutions to get the memo, educate yourself on sexual assault through the many other available resources out there. Learn the facts, before it's too late to help yourself or someone you know. 62 percent of sexual assaults are “drug-facilitated,” meaning that the majority of the sexual assaults on college students involve drugs or alcohol, according to a study funded by the National Institute of Justice. In 1 in 3 sexual assaults, the perpetrator was intoxicated, according to Campus Safety Magazine’s web site report. Experts believe it’s imperative to increase awareness across the spectrum and inform students about self-protection as well as how to apply protective measures within social situations on campus. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois found that alcohol is the number one date-rape drug on college campuses. However, there is still a presence (around 5 percent) of many other drugs, like the U.S. banned “Rohypnol” (commonly known as GHB), benzodiazepines (Ativan), pain medications (Valium) and party drugs (Ecstasy) in campus sexual assault crimes, too. Even drugs as common as over-the-counter antihistamines have been reported as date-rape drugs, since the effects of the drug are enhanced when mixed with alcohol.
Those who use drugs, alcohol or both were found to be at a “significantly higher risk for sexual assault.” Such drugs can seriously impair a person's judgement (or body), thus render a person unable to consent to sexual activity especially when mixed with alcohol. After a drug-facilitated assault, victims are often unable to recall exactly what took place. Victims’ rights advocates attribute this as one reason for the frequency of incidents as well as a contributing factor to the lack of successful prosecutions in such matters. Campus Safety Magazine reports that "43% of the sexual victimization incidents involved alcohol consumption by victims and 69% involved alcohol consumption by the perpetrators.” However, whether or not the victim acted consensual towards consuming drugs and/or alcohol is irrelevant. In the eyes of the law, impaired individuals are legally incapable of consent. Many college age students don’t realize that having sex with a person that’s too drunk to consent is considered rape. Victims suspecting that they were drugged are urged to seek help immediately, since many drugs are detectable for a short amount of time and evidence of the crime is lost forever.

Are victims being silenced?

Victims report that, in notifying college administrators about the incident, they find a lack of concern and a clear desire to protect the university’s reputation, which is understandably not the reaction they were looking for. Further issues ensue when cases of sexual assault are handled by campus judiciary committees (not state or local authorities) or other unqualified bodies. It’s all too common that such procedures allow the accused receive either a “slap on the wrist” or no discipline whatsoever. The victims are then left with emotional, physical and financial burdens and a lack of confidence in a system that they originally were brave enough to trust. Instances involving a lack of concern regarding the crimes span from careless to outrageous. Students have reported being discouraged from calling police, secretive investigations by campus authorities and lax judgments and disciplinary actions decided upon by students on a Judicial Board, rather than trained experts on sexual assault. An investigation by the The Center for Public Integrity found that students held responsible for sexual assaults (the assailants) “often face little or no consequence for their acts, which their victims’ lives are frequently left in turmoil.” The investigation also found that “victims report a lack of institutional support, and even disciplinary action.” As a result, victimized students often leave the school yet their assailants move forward and are able to graduate.

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