LET'S TALK: The underreporting of rape and sexual assault at MU
At the Columbia Missourian, our ongoing coverage of the problem of sexual assault aims to do more than just inform readers. With issues like this, we also want to encourage dialogue that can lead to change.
- Here are some suggested questions. We encourage you to talk about them with your friends and in your organizations. You're also invited to share your thoughts with us at [email protected].
Question: What is sexual assault?
- Have you gone beyond stereotypical depictions of forcible rape to more broadly consider the matter of consent? Legal terminology, medical jargon and college culture are often not in alignment on basic definitions and perceptions.
Question: How can our culture evolve to make victims feel more comfortable speaking out about sexual assault?
- What do you think would lower the barriers for victims deciding whether to share their experiences with law enforcement and with their friends and family?
Question: Who's already talking about sexual assault, and who should be talking about it?
- Who do you wish you could have an open discussion with, and what would make that conversation possible? Is there anything you wish law enforcement officials would do differently? How about campus officials? How about students? How about people you enter into romantic relationships with?
Question: What else should we all be asking?
- Help guide the Missourian's coverage and contribute to the community conversation by emailing [email protected].
Information about sexual assaultHere, we'll share some of the Missourian's coverage of this issue. (Archived stories are available to Missourian subscribers only.)
The latest chapter in our coverage addressed the number of sexual assault cases that are reported to campus counselors and police and why so few of those cases end in punishment through the Office of Student Conduct.
- Here are a few highlights from the article.
- In 2012, just one MU student was expelled for a sex offense, and one other was suspended. The article states: “Although dozens of sex offenses were reported to campus counselors and police last year, only those two students faced punishment from the Office of Student Conduct.” Here's a look at 2012 sexual assault reports.
- The burden to report the assault to the Office of Student Conduct lies squarely with the victim. Relationship & Sexual Violence Prevention Center, a campus resource office, and Columbia police do not routinely notify Student Conduct. Student Conduct officials also don't know victims' names, which are private until cases go to court, unless notified.
The low rate of sexual assault reporting isn't unique to MU. The story states: “A recent national study found that 16 percent of college students were the victims of unwanted sexual contact, but only 3 percent of them told authorities. At a university of MU’s size, that would be more than 5,000 victimizations in one academic year.”
- And the Center for Public Integrity found in 2010 "that college campuses across the country regularly fail to impose penalties on students who commit sex offenses.”
The culture of rape
- Campus culture is another piece of the puzzle, and MU had its own high-profile example of victim backlash in 2012. A student withdrew from the university after publicly accusing basketball player Michael Dixon of rape. The accusation was followed by social media criticism — some directed at Dixon but much more directed at the victim herself.
- A fear of being blamed is one factor that can discourage victims from coming forward. Victims who report cases of sexual assault also face the possibility of having to relive the incident through police questioning, testimonies and reactions from the public. The Missourian's most recent coverage stated: “RAINN, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said only 9 percent of all rape cases are ever prosecuted. Many lack the hard evidence needed to prosecute because they’re based almost solely on the victim’s assertions.”
Previous Missourian coverageWhile the above information summarizes the Missourian's most recent sexual assault article, the issue is far from new. Back in May of 2010, a MU graduate student came forward to provide a first-hand account of what sexual assault victims experience. The article says the student "asked the Missourian not to reveal her identity because she doesn't want people to remember her as 'that girl who was raped.'"
- A 2010 Missourian investigation examined the low prosecution rate on MU's campus. "At the heart of the matter is the question of consent. Victims' advocates' definition of that word differs greatly from that of the law. And cultural biases about sexual assault find their way into jurors' thinking, further complicating prosecutors' jobs. The result is a minuscule prosecution rate for sexual assault."
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