Sexual Assault - Out of the Shadows Part II
Posted at: 11/01/2012 11:10 AM
| Updated at: 11/15/2012 2:01 PM
By: Brittany Falkers
Terms used by politicians in the media such as "legitimate rape" created a political fire-storm and a quick apology. It raised eyebrows, but not surprise among advocates, such as Candice Harshner. She says it is a common and stubborn mindset by some, that the victim is somehow to blame.
"The rape crisis movement has been going on for decades and so many of the same problems or issues or detriments are still there, in terms of women not wanting to report. The same reasons they're still being blamed," Harshner said.
Harshner is the Executive Director of Duluth's Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, or PAVSA. Old, stereotyped ideas of sexual assault are still alive, she said. In spite of years of progress, Harshner isn't shocked that women are still not coming forward.
"Girls are really pressured to recant or pressured not to say that it happened to them or that they were drinking. So, it was their fault. All those same old reasons why we blame women and girls for being raped are still out there and very alive," Harshner said.
Local colleges, such as the University of Minnesota (UMD), agree that acquaintance rapes or sexual assaults by someone the victim knows are happening, but are not being reported.
For example, the federal government tracks sexual assault on campuses. UMD's student newspaper, the Statesman found that only three sexual assaults were reported from 2008 to 2010. However, in a student survey covering a two year stretch, about one in 17 UMD female students said they had experienced sexual assault or an attempted assault. But it's not the only campus dealing with under-reporting.
Tad Sears is the director for the Student Center for Health and Well Being at the College of St. Scholastica (CSS). He sees the problem of under-reporting and says the focus needs to be on getting victims to come forward and raising awareness.
"The interesting dynamic about this is that if we do our job better, in terms of educating our community, the number of reported sexual assaults will go up," Sears said.
Advocates agree, silence over sexual assault makes it difficult to understand where it happens and to whom. Making following trends and collecting demographic research a big challenge.
"People aren't reporting everywhere. I think that's the bottom line. Most women who are sexually assaulted never tell anybody," Harshner said.
That's why campuses and law enforcement are working to end the stigma. To help victims become survivors and empowering them to report. The approach is centered around the victim. It takes the wide range of emotional responses after an assault into account.
UMD Police Chief Scott Drewlo says it's called the victim-centered approach and it takes the delicacy of these cases seriously. "That's part of that individual psychology of having to work through that post-traumatic stress," he said.
This approach is a stark contrast to the past, when officers approached sexual assault cases the same way as, say, a burglary investigation, according to Drewlo.
"Just those real sterile, just the facts, that's all I'm interested in kind of police work," he said.
No two victims of sexual assault react the same, physically or psychologically. The old way may have deterred victims from reporting. Which can cause a victim to recant or even stop an investigation, Drewlo said.
"That approach was creating a lot of gaps in service delivery where victims felt slighted, re-victimized, not believed," he said.
the University of Wisconsin Superior's (UWS) Associate Dean of Students, Tammy Fanning, says they see the same issues with under-reporting. When victims do come forward they work to hold perpetrators accountable. In turn protecting potential future victims.
"We don't want an individual on campus who might be there possibly harming other people too," Fanning said.
However, advocates say the bigger reason victims should come forward is for themselves. Even if victims don't take legal action, keeping the assault a secret can have lifelong repercussions, according to Harshner.
"If they don't get help, this is something that can cause sever problems throughout your life. It can create mental health issues, in can reate physical health issues and it can create relationship issues down the road," she said.
Getting everyone on campus - students, faculty, staff and campus police - speaking the same language is part of moving forward, according to UMD's office of Cultural Diversity director, Sussanna Pelayo-Woodward said.
teams trained on campus are dedicated to finding the best approaches, overseeing issues surrounding sexual assault on campus and keeping the system in check.
"It's important to bring them all together because all of them are working with a specific group of students," Pelayo-Woodward said.
Everyone agrees the process has a long way to go. It's up to the community to stand up against outdated notions... and help potential victims know what they can do.
"I think we need to start changing the culture and I think we need to start early," Pelayo-Woodward said.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted please reach out to an advocacy organization near you. Confidential reporting and counseling services free and available to you.
Trained PAVSA advocates are there with free and confidential help at their 24-hour crisis line (218) 726-1931.
CASDA has offices in Superior (715) 392-3136 and Bayfield County (715) 373-0870. Call toll-free at 800-649-2921.
Related Stories: Sexual Assault - Out of the Shadows Part I