The View From Here: Taking sexual assault seriously

The way society addresses sexual assault is detrimental to both the victim and society as a whole.

The unfortunate reality for many of these victims is that when reporting the crime committed upon them, they are made to feel they should not have reported the crime at all. This of course leads to great repercussions such as trauma for the victim and inaccurate statistical data.

A study from the year 2000 by the U.S Department of Justice states, “Few incidents of sexual victimization were reported to law enforcement officials. Thus, fewer than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes were reported to law enforcement officials”.

Sexual assault can be quite prevalent on college campuses. The National Sexual Violence Center states, ”One in 5 women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college” and “more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault”.

According to this study, there are various reasons a victim may not report. Some felt the crime was not important or it was not clear a crime was committed, but others felt there was a barrier such as “not wanting family or other people to know about the incident, lack of proof the incident happened, fear of reprisal by the assailant, fear of being treated with hostility by the police, and anticipation that the police would not believe the incident was serious enough and/or would not want to be bothered with the incident.”

The cold truth is some victims are not treated kindly when they report their rape, thus deterring them from receiving the help they need. Language used to speak to the victim can make them feel it was their fault they were raped, that the crime was insignificant, and they may be made so uncomfortable by their peers and others that they drop the case or never report it. Unfortunately, even cops are a part of this problem, with some immediately addressing the victim in a cold manner or as if they already do not believe in them.

This is not okay. While it is true that occasionally a person will falsely accuse another of this crime, acting as though there is no possibility that the accusation is true is a disservice to our community.

The way that victims are treated upon reporting sexual assault is important because it sends a message to other sexual assault victims, and can determine whether other victims decide to come forth.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “The prevalence of false reporting is between 2% and 10%…Researchers studied 812 reports of sexual assault from 2000-03 and found a 2.1% rate of false reports.”

Even if it seems very likely that someone is falsely accused, it is still necessary to go into the legal process with an open mind. The instant reaction of disdain or portraying the feeling that no one is on their side is detrimental to the victims who have been subject to this crime. And of course, addressing the case with a preconceived notion takes away the chances of the victim receiving any chance of justice if they are indeed telling the truth.

A major reason victims may not report sexual assault is the emotional trauma they face in the aftermath. Often, victims will speak to friends about their ongoing trauma, but not family or police. Of the trauma that sexual assault victims face, The National Sexual Violence Center mentions, “81% of women and 35% of men report significant short-term or long-term impacts such as PostTraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)”.

The emotional trauma victims face can be tremendous, and with the stigma around sexual assault preventing them from coming forward, they may also be prevented from seeking help.

We as a society need to address sexual assault in a very different manner, to protect the well-being of people. While I understand the great negative effect on those who are falsely accused, the amount of women who never receive justice because of their fear of the way they will be treated is disheartening to say the least. We need to do better, for the sake of the victims.