Sexual assaults are all-too common on college/university campuses. How can administrators stop or at least lower the cases of sexual assaults?
Some parents are anxious about sending their children away for college, not because of heavy debts or a lack of trust in college degrees, but because of the prevalence of sexual violence at campuses. 13 percent of sexual contact at campuses is non-consensual (American Association of Universities 2019). On average, in the U.S., one out of every 6 six women fall victim to completed or attempted sexual assault (bestcolleges.com 2020). These are terrifying numbers, enough to not only make parents, but students anxious of attending college/university as well. This is a problem that needs to be seriously tackled by campus administrators in order to avoid discouraging students from attending college/university simply because of the fear of sexual violence. But administrators cannot properly help students if they are kept in the dark about most of the cases occurring on their campuses. This is because of underreporting of cases by students due to various reasons, and it is imperative that these reasons are individually tackled so that those in charge can take decisions accordingly. It would take efforts at multiple levels: student, campus, and government levels, to end or at least limit this epidemic raging through campuses all over the world.
According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, the rate of sexual crimes in the U.S. is 1.1 victimizations per 1000 persons (U.S. Department of Justice 2016). Many of these incidents are happening on college/university campuses. Although the overall rate of sexual violence in the U.S. is decreasing, there was a three percent increase in non-consensual sexual contact between 2015 and 2019 on campuses American Association of Universities 2019). This means that even though the problem is decreasing on a national scale, it is getting worse for students on campuses. Therefore, it is extremely important for campus administrators to look for viable solutions to this decades old problem, so that campuses can become a safe space for students to focus on their studies and careers.
The first step in solving any problem is to accurately diagnose it. For this to happen, the administration will need to have a complete picture of the matter at hand. This means students will have to report all incidents of sexual faced by them or their acquaintances at campus. But, according to the Department of Justice, 80% cases of sexual assault are never reported. And there are various reasons for this trend of underreporting: believing it was a personal matter, fear of reprisal, feeling it was unimportant, not wanting to incriminate the perpetrator, and believing that the police cannot, or would not, provide them any help (bestcolleges.com 2020).
Understanding these reasons could give important insight into what might be done to counter them.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre, more than 50% of sexual violence is committed by intimate partners. This shows why one of the most important reasons for underreporting is believing that it was a personal matter or not wanting to incriminate the perpetrator of the crime. Only in 19% of the cases, was the assailant a complete stranger. From these statistics, it is easy to see why so many victims would avoid reporting their victimization. Administrators need to keep this relation in mind while devising any plans to counter the problem.
The fear of reprisal, meaning that the victim is afraid of any dangerous consequences of reporting to the police by the perpetrator, so she decides not to report at all. Of the cases that actually do get reported, a very small percentage reaches any sentence by the court. In most cases, the assaulter gets away without any real imprisonment, and hence becomes a potential danger for the victim at future times. This implies that such cases need to be handled by the administration in a very sensitive way as not to endanger the life of the victim.
Some victims decide not to report simply because they think it was so unimportant and normal that there is no point in reporting to the authorities at all. This shows how dangerous the situation has become, and it should of utmost importance to deal with this problem. Considering a grave crime such as sexual violence unimportant and normal shows a deep flaw both at the social and systemic levels. Administrators need to let the students know how sexual assault is one of the biggest crimes against humanity and must be dealt with an iron hand.
Recent political developments in the U.S. have shown that people are losing their trust in the institution of police. This reality is reflected in the case of college/students and their reluctance to report incidents of sexual assault to the police as well. Some victims genuinely feel that the police cannot or worse still, would not help them with this problem. And this not just limited to individual victims. American colleges are legally bound to submit their statistics regarding sexual violence to the police through the Clery Act, but 89% of these colleges do not disclose their rape statistics for one reason or another (American Association of Women 2016). Administrators need to develop their own, and the students’ trust in the institution of police to effectively arrest this problem.
It is by tackling each and every one of these reasons individually that administration officials can hope to end the menace of sexual violence at their respective campuses.
Believing it was a personal matter or feeling that it was not important enough to report to the authorities shows a lack of awareness regarding the issue of sexual violence on the part of the student. Steps can be taken to ensure that students know all the moral and legal implications of their victimization so that they do not feel any shame in reporting their cases. This can be achieved by seminars on sexual violence, discussions in class and even campaigns on social media to let the students know the real gravity of the matter. It should never be considered taboo or unimportant to report legitimate crimes such as sexual assault no matter the age, location, or gender of the victim.
The problem with the fear of reprisal could be possibly tackled in two ways: ensuring privacy of the reporter and promising a sentence for the assailant. If the victim, or one of their friends decides to report the case, they should be given full privacy and their identity should not be disclosed to the perpetrator at any point during the investigation. The second part is totally dependent on the justice system and how it can effectively punish a person accused of sexual assault. The administrators, on their part, should do whatever assistance they can provide to the system, so that a final decision can be reached as soon as possible.
The justice system and the police need to make their own efforts to reform themselves so that victims can have some trust in the system, and feel safe and important while reporting their cases. The fact that some victims feel that the police cannot or will not help them, speaks volumes about the system’s reputation. And this reputation needs to be repaired. Administrators can help with this issue by organizing talks and activities involving the police and the students, to build some mutual trust between the two parties.
It can be safely concluded that the problem of sexual assault is very real in U.S. institutes (and in other parts of the world as well). Its persistence is partly due to the lack of will on the part of the students to report the problem, and the fact that very few reported cases ever get a sentence. For this, the various reasons of underreporting by the students need to be analyzed and understood and steps should be taken to tackle them accordingly. The police and the justice system also need to ensure that when students do decide to report, the rapist should not get away. Students need to know their reports will be heard and potential rapists need to know that their crimes will not go unpunished.