Sexual Assault Reports Still Far and Few Between

During the last couple weeks of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (in April), our Advocate reporters busied themselves investigating statistics surrounding rape and sexual assault on a university level, in follow-up to our recent publication detailing student Miriam Morrissette’s experience after reporting her rape to Oregon State University. Despite abundant resources and advocacy centers at OSU, survivors are still struggling to come forward, and statistics are marred by confusing reporting processes, making the total number of survivors impossible to know, and leaving gaps where support and advocacy would otherwise be resourced.

When asked for a response to Morrissette’s experience, President of OSU Ed Ray stated, “I have no comment on the article you published and I cannot comment on individual cases as a matter of law. My heart goes out to the survivor featured in your story. Survivors need others to listen compassionately, believe their narratives, and offer any help they can.”

OSU spent the last week of April with a series of events spotlighting support for survivors on campus. It was merged with the annual Pride Week, and also featured the national Take Back the Night march, a conversation with OSU rape survivor Brenda Tracy, and various other community conversations around consent.

President Ray stated that Take Back the Night is an important event for survivors and those standing in solidarity. “There is the sense that they feel they are in a safe place to share their horrible experiences, to continue their healing process, and that they genuinely want to help other survivors get the help and support they need.”

He also said, “Oregon State’s survivor support, education, and sexual violence prevention efforts are many, and continue to expand.” Sadly, however, college support resources across the country struggle to reach the majority of the campus population who have experienced sexual violence.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 23.1% of females and 5.4% of males are likely to experience sexual assault during their undergraduate studies. The numbers jump to 41% of black women, 36% of Hispanic women, 29% of Asian or Pacific Islander women, and 49% of Native American women who experience sexual violence in their lifetime, according to a 2010 CDC report. The Bureau of Justice states people with disabilities are three times more likely to experience sexual violence, as well as 25% of transgender people.

Under the Clery Act, universities in the U.S. receiving any kind of federal funding are required to disclose an Annual Security Report, which includes all crimes reported to the school during the previous three calendar years. The most recent report from OSU was published in October 2016 and included crime numbers for all three campuses in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

In 2015, OSU’s Corvallis campus received a total of 19 reports of rape, both on campus and in affiliated buildings. In addition, they received 10 reports of fondling, which according to the Clery Act is defined as “the touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification without consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of his/her age or temporary or permanent mental or physical incapacity.”

The 2015 report does not specify which of these reports were founded or unfounded, as the Clery Act requires universities to include every instance regardless of action taken. It also does not encompass reports made to confidential campus organizations, such as the Survivor Advocacy and Resource Center. Nor does this report provide information on the percentage of sexual violence incidences that were reported to the police; campus investigations of sexual misconduct differ greatly from criminal investigations in procedure and consequences.

But Lieutenant Eric C. Judah, Station Commander at the OSU Patrol Office for Oregon State Police, said that just three instances of rape were reported to OSP in the calendar year 2015. One of those reports addressed an on-campus rape from 2011 that had not been previously reported. 

These numbers demonstrate a severe lack of reporting that can stem from a number of reasons. A 2015 Association of American University’s Campus Climate Survey showed that many students don’t think that sexual violence is a serious enough crime to report, but also that their experience would not be taken seriously and nothing would be done to achieve justice.

 So while Sexual Assault Awareness Month is over, it is clear that much more work is needed to make sure survivors can be heard, believed, and taken seriously, as the prevalence of sexual violence is alarming.

By Regina Pieracci