December 1, 2020

Sexual assaults go unreported

The Webster Groves Police Department (WGPD) responded to a sexual assault at the Webster Village Apartments at Webster University on Feb. 10.  Sexual assaults are one of the most under-reported crimes in the country, according to the United States Department of Justice.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) reported only 3 percent of rapists will ever serve any time in jail.

Gladys Smith, Webster University’s sexual assault advocate and assistant director at the Counseling and Life Development Office, said the under reporting of sexual assaults is a social problem.

“It’s very under reported because of fear of being judged,” Smith said.  “I think it comes from our (society’s) male dominance. In some states, not until three or four years ago, spousal rape was not considered rape. It’s our attitudes towards gender equality.”

Smith refers to victims of sexual crimes as survivors in order to lessen the feeling of helplessness the person may experience after an assault.

Smith said reporting sexual assaults is important because it encourages other survivors to report an assault. Only 10 percent of rapes on college campuses are reported, according to RAINN.

“We’re not going to decrease the number of survivors if they don’t speak up, it’s not going to change,” Smith said.

Kathleen Hanrahan, YWCA community advocate, said victims of sexual crimes too often don’t report the crime because they think the assault was somehow their mistake.

“I think people blame themselves, they think (the assault) was their fault, they think they put themselves in a situation where they were compromised and taken advantage of,” Hanrahan said. “But, the bottom line is, the only person that bears responsibility for sexual violence is the perpetrator.”

Distinguishing an assault 

Smith said some survivors don’t report an assault because they are unaware they have been assaulted. Smith said to go with “your gut,” and know there is more than one way to say “no.”

“I have a boyfriend; that means no,” Smith said. “Not right now; that means no. I’m on my period; that means no. I don’t feel like it – means no. No means no.”

Someone under the influence of alcohol or drugs is unable to give their consent to sexual activities, according to Webster’s Sexual Offense Policy.

Reporting the assault

When someone is sexually assaulted, it is up to the survivor to go to the hospital and/or report the crime. Scott Patterson, Public Safety supervisor, said reporting a sexual assault is vital.

“If nobody is reporting it, then we don’t know about it,” Patterson said. “Report it to a faculty member, an RA (Residential Assistant), a Webster University official, someone, so we can help.”

If a survivor of sexual assault decides to report the crime, they have two options. The survivor can report the crime through law enforcement, in which case normal procedures for reporting a crime would take place. Or the survivor can handle the incident within Webster’s judicial process.

If a survivor selects Webster’s internal process, he or she can decide if the assault will go through an informal or formal review.

Informal Review

In an informal review, Smith would help the survivor write a claim. The claim is turned in to the dean of Student Affairs. The dean would read the claim, then act as a judge and hear each person’s story separately.

The dean would then make a decision as to whether the alleged perpetrator violated Webster’s Sexual Offense Policy and decide on a recourse.

Formal Review

In a formal review, a sexual offense hearing board would be assembled. Webster’s sexual offense hearing board is made up of two faculty members, two students and two staff members.

The six members of the board would decide if Webster’s sexual offense policy was violated, and the board would decide the recourse.

The hearing board would try to keep the survivor and alleged perpetrator separate throughout the process.

Aftermath

If either party disagrees with the decision of the dean or sexual offense hearing board, an appeal can be made within 10 working days. The appeal would be made to President Elizabeth Stroble. Stroble would then examine the evidence collected and make a determination. The determination would be provided in writing within 10 days of the filing of an appeal.

After the case, the survivor would be educated about acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and provided counseling.

The perpetrator, if found guilty, would normally be sent through a four-week program, which would educate him or her on the terms of consent. If alcohol was involved, drug and alcohol training would also be mandatory for the perpetrator. Smith said alcohol is involved in 90 percent of all sexual assault cases she deals with.

“It’s not just punishing that person to make our campus safe, but educating them so that they can educate other individuals,” Smith said.

The crime will follow the two parties throughout their time at Webster. The survivor is asked to register for their classes before the perpetrator can register. The perpetrator cannot register for any class the survivor is enrolled in. The perpetrator will not be allowed to be near the survivor. For example, if the survivor enters the University Center and the perpetrator happened to be there, the perpetrator would have to immediately leave.

Smith asks that everyone report sexual assaults so the necessary help can be given.

“There are people who will believe you and will support you no matter what happened,” Smith said. “If we don’t start to speak up as women and men, those perpetrators are going to get away with it and away with it and keep doing it.”

Natalie Martinez contributed to this article. 

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