Blog Entry #7: My Op-ed
1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assault while in college, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. That’s 20% of women in college who will be sexually assaulted and, frankly, that number is unacceptable.
On March 21st, 2016, the Naperville Sun published an article with what must have been a stunning headline to their readers: “Ten sex assaults at North Central in three years, reports show.” Administrators who handle reports of sexual assaults on campus at North Central may have applauded this number, but when the Naperville Sun reported it in such a negative way, it hardly sounded like something to be proud of.
The Naperville Sun compared North Central’s number of reports to those of other local colleges, including Benedictine University, Aurora University, and the University of St. Francis, each of which had numbers much lower than ours. The author, Bill Bird, also criticized North Central for refusing to release further details about the reports, including dates, times, locations, notification of the incidents to the Naperville Police, etc. and Dean Kimberly Sluis for citing FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) as justification for not releasing details upon request.
So, given all of this criticism, why would administrators on campus continue to applaud and stand by such a seemingly high number of reported sexual assaults, you may wonder?
It’s simple, really.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center claims that over 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault. This can happen for a vast number of reasons.
Maybe the victim knows the perpetrator and considers them to be a “friend.” Maybe the victim is afraid of the perpetrator. Maybe the victim fears getting in trouble for drinking under-age. Maybe they don’t think anyone will believe them. Maybe they don’t want the perpetrator to get in trouble. Maybe they’ll be blamed because of how they were dressed or because they didn’t say “no” or fight to make the perpetrator stop. The list goes on and on.
There are a lot of feelings involved when a sexual assault occurs; fear, shame, confusion, uncertainty. Again, this list goes on infinitely. The point is, it can be insurmountably difficult for a victim to gather the courage to come forward and report a sexual assault, especially on a campus as small and intimate as ours, where everyone knows everyone and word travels fast.
We consider every report of sexual assault on our campus a victory, because that means that that person felt comfortable coming forward and making that report. It means that we have succeeded in creating a climate on campus where that victim doesn’t fear retaliation when they come forward. It means we are able to connect with that victim and educate them on what resources they have, on-campus and off. It means that victim is one step closer to regaining the sense of control they lost when they were sexually assaulted. It means we are empowering our students to move on and move forward in whatever way feels right for them.
Sometimes, this might mean the victim wishes to make a report, but remain anonymous. Sometimes the victim will choose to report the assault on campus but might not wish to involve the police, or vice versa. The power really belongs to the victim (unless we have reason to believe that there is an ongoing safety concern for that student or others), and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
There is a sexual assault epidemic on our college campuses and just because a college reports a low number of assaults does not mean there isn’t a problem. It could just mean that their students don’t feel comfortable making reports with their administration, and that could be for (you guessed it) any number of reasons. While our long-term goal is to reduce the number of incidents of sexual assault, dating/domestic violence, stalking, and other forms of interpersonal violence on our campus, it is going to take some time to shift the culture and get us there. In the meantime, we’ll happily accept a campus climate that supports and encourages reporting sexual assaults any day.
Stefany Sigler will graduate from North Central College in June 2017.