It seems college students don’t prepare for sexual assault or rape on campus. Maybe someone will take karate lessons or a self-defense course, but most of the time it is of little concern until something actually happens. But why worry, it probably won’t happen to you, right?
At Quinnipiac, there were four reports of forcible sex offences in 2010, which dropped to one report in 2011 according to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Act. Colleges are required to report cases of sexual misconduct under this law, which is also available to the public.
Sophomore Taylor Trahan said she feels safe on campus and was not surprised by the low number of reports.
“That’s awesome if that was the only [sexual offense], but I feel like there were probably more, just not reported,” Trahan said.
Trahan was right. Instances of sexual assault and rape are highly underreported. It is estimated that for every 1,000 women attending a college or university, there are 35 incidents of rape each academic year according to The National Institute of Justice. Nationally, only 36 percent of rapes, 34 percent of attempted rapes, and 26 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the criminal justice system.
Quinnipiac’s Student Handbook defines sexual assault as forcing another person to partake in sexual contact “by force, threat, intimidation” or by reliance upon the survivor’s mental or physical state of helplessness of which the accused was aware or should have been aware.
Those who’ve been sexually assaulted may not report the incident for a variety of reasons, including shame, self-blame, mistrust of officials, and an uncertainty of who to turn to. Many sexual assaults and rape cases are committed by a person the victim knows, as well, which makes the decision to tell someone more difficult.
If the victim knows the perpetrator prior to the crime, they may feel reluctant to report these cases because in taking that step, they fear losing relationships, said Dr. Phillip Brewer, the university medical director for Student Health Services.
“Especially if drinking alcohol was involved, the student may even feel responsible for what happened,” added Brewer.
Kim Healy, professor of sociology, added that reporting instances of sexual assault or rape is challenging because of the stigma attached.
“Unfortunately, much, if not most of the burden, is placed upon the woman to make a decision as to how to handle the assault,” Healy said. “Although women have made enormous strides toward equality, the ‘shame’ factor and accompanying stigma deter many women from coming forward and reporting the incident; society continues to run according to this double standard.”
Erica Cianciosi, a freshman, said she would help a friend turn to a university counselor for aid if they were sexual assaulted or raped. Sophomore Allie Penta agreed, but added that she would also go to the health center.
“[The health center] could give me further direction as far as getting help,” Penta said. “There’s also help I can get to make sure I’m physically okay.”
Despite this, some students seem unsure of where to turn to under such circumstances.
“I know that there are a bunch of the emergency blue lights around my dorm [Complex] and Ledges,” sophomore Jake Polikoff said. “I think it’s a great idea to have these for safety. I just don’t think anyone knows where to head when they are in trouble. Do you head to public safety or to your RA? Do you seek out a security officer? Although there seems to be many places to go, I’m not really sure which would be the best or safest.”
Seann Kalagher, assistant dean of Student Affairs, said the university wants to give people options.
“So, if you want to discuss something with our residential life staff, if you want to go to Health Services, all our staff has been trained regarding to our process and protocol […] there’s not just one place that a person has to go if they want important information like this or even find out more information that someone could help them with,” Kalagher said.
Healy said Quinnipiac has always been diligent about responding to situations requiring immediate attention, adding that students, faculty and staff are alerted to any situation that can be perceived as dangerous and clear guidelines and procedures are explained.
As outlined in the Student Handbook, Quinnipiac encourages students to contact the Office of Student Affairs to report any sexual assault or rape and promises confidentiality, which may reassure uncertain victims to report an incident. On the other hand, the handbook doesn’t state what to do if a student feels unsafe before a suspected sexual assault or rape occurs.
The Department of Public Safety lists procedures for what to do if there is a fire, bomb threat, and several other emergencies in their “Emergency Guide”, which can be accessed online, but it does not mention sexual assault or rape.
This seems unusual since most people would consider acts of sexual assault and rape to be an emergency. Both sexual assault and rape fulfill Public Safety’s definition of emergency as “any unplanned event that can cause death or significant injury to employees, students, visitors to the campus, or the public.”
The Department of Public Safety did not return requests for comment.
However, Quinnipiac’s Jeanne Clery report does state how the university would handle such situations if a sexual confrontation already occurred and the victimized student sought university assistance.
“Depending upon the nature of the alleged incident, the incident may be investigated and adjudicated through the University’s Title IX Grievance Process. The University also will assist students in contacting local law enforcement, medical and mental health resources as needed,” the report states.
The university updated the Student Handbook’s section on sexual misconduct in July 2012 to be compliant under the Title IX Discrimination and Harassment Policy according to Kalagher.
“These changes, in large part, came in response to new guidance regarding Title IX that was issued by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in 2011,” Kalagher said. “This guidance was not specific to Quinnipiac and affected all institutions receiving federal funding. Quinnipiac is just one of many institutions across the country implementing similar changes.”
In addition to Quinnipiac’s new policy changes, Brewer made several suggestions regarding the improvement of sexual assault and rape prevention on campus.
“People should be encouraged to be Samaritans and to intervene,” Brewer said. “If the aggressor thinks people will intervene, he is much less likely to act. This is why we need to get people engaged and to feel responsible for each other.”
Some parts of campus may be more safe than others depending on the time of day, and students should be educated about these hotspots if there are any, Brewer explained.
“It’s always okay to get help,” Penta said. “It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. If something like that happens it needs to be immediately addressed.”
It is important to be aware and speak out if something were to happen or if something has happened.
“Contact someone from the university staff whether it’s Public Safety, the residential life staff, reach out to even an administrator that you know if you feel like you’re being harassed, or if you feel like there’s anything you want addressed,” Kalagher said. “Unless we hear about it, we can’t offer you that assistance.”