Reporting sexual assault: part two of a three part series

Three semesters ago, a male Guilford College student riding back home from a local club was held down by the two other men in the car and sexually assaulted.

His story would never reach the police department, and would not reach school officials until well after the life-altering event took place.

The mental, physical, and spiritual scars both seen and unseen will remain with him for the rest of his life. For reasons only known to that student, he did not report the crime.

Sexual assaults going unreported are very common in colleges across the country, including Guilford.

Director of Counseling Gaither Terrell told The Guilfordian that there are many reasons students might not report a sexual assault:

– The person who was assaulted might know the assailant and be hesitant to report, for fear of what will happen to that person.

– In some cases, the person who was assaulted is too confused and traumatized to want or be able to report it right away.

– Sometimes the assaulted person feels some uncertainty about their own role in the situation, especially if there was alcohol involved.

– Sometimes there may be a wish to put this behind them and move on in an effort to avoid painful emotions.

Director of Judicial Affairs Sandy Bowles told The Guilfordian that anytime a sexual assault takes place, it is an excruciating process for all involved.

“The person offended has feelings of shame, guilt, and, in some cases, does not want to deal with the emotional aching,” said Bowles. “It’s easier for some to avoid ‘bad’ things and just move on with their lives.”

Bowles also told The Guilfordian that there is, at times, the authoritarian divide, which keeps some students from reporting when something wrong has happened.

“The ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude does not serve anyone,” said Bowles. “When certain behaviors go unchecked, then we don’t have a true community.”

A 2005 study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice reported that some colleges do a lot of unintentional victim blaming by overemphasizing the victim’s responsibility to avoid sexual assault without balancing messages stressing the perpetrator’s role for committing a crime.

According to New York University’s Student Health Center, 81 percent of assaults on college campuses are not reported to the police, between 80 and 90 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, and 35 percent of men say that there is some likelihood that they would rape if they knew they would not be caught or punished.

Susan Danielson, a Greensboro Police Department spokeswoman, told The Guilfordian that not reporting a crime is harmful to everyone.

“For the victim there is no closure,” said Danielson. “For the perpetrator, they are not getting the justice and help they need to stop committing these acts.”

Terrell told The Guilfordian that allowing the victim to make their own decision with reporting is very important, even as a concerned friend.

“These situations are complex and a person’s response is individual to them,” said Terrell.

Terrell said that, at the end of the day, reporting is only one part of the entire process.

“Even if the student has no interest in reporting, that doesn’t mean they can’t get help in dealing with the ways it has affected them,” said Terrell. “You can ask for help even years after the fact. Deciding whether to report the assault or not is only one part of dealing with this complicated event.”