Every sexual assault is one too many. In 2010, 14 sexual assaults reportedly occurred on campus. There were 15 in 2011 and 20 in 2012.
The increase is concerning, but as university officials have noted, the rise could simply mean more and more students feel comfortable calling police. If that’s the case, the rise could signal a positive culture change on campus and a step toward reducing sexual violence among students.
Although it always is the sexual assault survivor’s decision whether to report the incident, we encourage anyone who has been assaulted to dial 911.
Resources for sexual assault victims
Sexual Assault Crisis and Intervention Hotline
Student Services Building
556 East Circle Dr. Room 14
Women’s Resource Center
332 Union Building
East Lansing police
101 Linden Street
1120 Red Cedar Road
MSU Department of Student Life
Student Services Building, Room 101
Too often, fear of stigma, blame or retaliation keeps survivors from reporting assault. Especially on a college campus, pressure from friends or social groups might keep stories of assault from ever surfacing. The National Institute of Justice estimates 85-90 percent of victims know their assailants. If a survivor and an assailant are part of the same circle of friends, reporting them to police can be intimidating, guilt-inducing and isolating.
We don’t blame anyone who does not feel comfortable reporting assault, but we hope MSU as a community continues to do more to make survivors feel safe going to police. The Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence program, mandatory for freshman and transfer students and aimed at increasing awareness of sexual violence, is a start.
To move forward and stop sexual assault on campus, greater reporting is vital. We hope survivors find strength to stand up for themselves and for others who will stay silent.
We cannot address a problem we don’t know about. Staying quiet about assaults enables others to deny their existence. Perhaps more problematic, the community and those who have the power to help make a difference might not fully understand the scope and scale of the problem.
An estimated 80 percent of on-campus survivors do not report their assaults to police, MSU Sexual Assault Program Coordinator Shari Murgittroyd said in a previous interview with The State News. That’s compared to the national reporting average of 54 percent, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, or RAINN.
Perpetrators who are not reported never will face justice for their actions. Only 3 percent of rapists go to jail, according to RAINN. Although reporting an assault does not necessarily mean assailants will be found guilty and imprisoned, there is no chance they will be prosecuted if they never are reported. Even if charges are not pressed, documenting the case still is necessary in case the perpetrator assaults someone again.
If one person speaks up, they could save others from similar nightmares. If one person speaks up, they might inspire others who felt pressured into silence to speak up, too.
If Aaron Fisher never reported being sexually assaulted by Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach might still be preying on young boys. Fisher’s actions were enough to influence dozens more to stand up against Sandusky.
Reporting sexual assault as the crime it is also might signal an important culture shift at MSU. The FBI classifies forcible rape as the second-most violent crime. Assault is not just a personal affair. It is a serious offense, and assailants should be prosecuted in court.
Ultimately, it is the survivor’s choice whether or not they call police. But they never should be subjected to pressure, blame or stigma from others for wanting to speak out against sexual assault.
MSU police are trained and guarantee professionalism, sensitivity, privacy and safety when speaking with survivors.
Calling immediately after the incident can help law enforcement document the assault and will help police collect evidence that ultimately can be used to prosecute the perpetrator, although there is no time limit to report sexual assault. The trauma of the incident might make the process seem daunting, but the sooner survivors call 911, the better.
Documenting assaults makes it harder to ignore the issue and its prevalence on campus. Don’t let stigma and fear silence survivors.
If we want to make campus a safer place for everyone, we must continue to support those who have the courage to report abuse.