On-Campus Sexual Assaults Go Under Reported

By Kristi Lucchetta, News Editor

Sexual assault occurs on many college campuses all over the country but very few sexual assaults go through the court system, Sgt. Lorriane Hill, EWU campus police officer, said.

The definition of sexual assault, according to “Sexual Assault on the College Campus: The Role of Male Peer Support” by Martin D. Schwartz and Walter DeKeseredy, includes all forms of nonconsensual sexual conduct.

According to Schwartz and DeKeserdy, some factors that contribute to the sexual assaults include drinking incidents and the protection of middle class, white males on campus.

“When the criminals are themselves tuition-paying students who engage in acquaintance rapes, thefts, drug sales, gambling, vandalism, and assaults, the rhetoric is much softer,” according to Schwartz and DeKeseredy.

This leads to many women not realizing the significance of pursuing legal action.

“Overall, sexual assault doesn’t have a lot of support,” Kerri Handley, campus victim advocate for Lutheran Community Services Northwest Spokane, said.

Handley said she feels that society shames victims of sexual assault and that victims see other people being shamed, especially on social media.

“There is not a lack of support on campus but there can always be more and it needs to be intertwined in the culture,” Handley said.

When Hill was asked why she thought victims don’t pursue charges against the suspect, her response was fear.

“[The victims] are scared,” said Hill. “When you go to court you’re facing them again.”

Even when officers encourage victims to press charges, Hill said officers understand it is not an easy process.

“We encourage them to press charges for a sense of closure and to help with the healing process,” she said.

Handley said there are a multitude of reasons why survivors may not report.

“Some possibilities could be that [victims] are afraid no one would believe them, worried about retaliation, don’t want to face the offender again or don’t want to feel responsible for the offender getting in trouble,” said Handley. “As well as not knowing what their options and rights are.”

Handley emphasizes that it is important to empower survivors of sexual assault, and it is important to see what best equips that individual survivor.

Another approach is that the victims can work as a team with other survivors when moving forward. Handley said it is important to express to survivors that they have options and what they choose to do they will be supported.

“Victims can regain their voice and their self-worth,” Handley said.

According to Schwartz and DeKeseredy, it was only with the development of feminist coalitions, with intensive lobbying and education initiatives, that individuals began to see university communities start to take the safety of women more seriously.

Schwartz and DeKeseredy said that cynics might point out that the change has come from university legal officers who have convinced university officials of the possibility of losing great amounts of money from lawsuits brought by women who feel that basic institutional frameworks to deal with violent assaults are not in place.

“I’ve been an officer on campus for 23 years,” said Hill. “I’ve noticed students trust us; they come forward and talk to us. They believe that we believe them.”

Hill said it was 1986 when the first domestic assualt law came out and that was when EWU started creating a rape-free campus with advocate training.

According to Schwartz and DeKeserdy, “We seem to have developed laws and law enforcement policies aimed specifically at disenfranchised people while letting another equally if not more guilty group off more easily.”

Handley encourages society to support victim choices, even if you do not agree and appreciate them for trusting you with their story.

“Having resources [on campus] can help students come forward,” Handley said.

EWU offers counseling services for students and group sessions including LGBTQ+ group sessions, building connections, understanding self and others, test anxiety, family matters and mindful mediation.