UB officials discuss why sexual assault is underreported on campus
Four sexual assaults were reported to University Police between Sept. 9 and Sept. 25. UPD sent out a campus-wide alert for only one of the four reported incidents, which occurred on Sept. 25.
The other three incidents did not present an imminent threat, according to Deputy Chief of Police Joshua Sticht, because they were reported significantly later than they occurred – anywhere from weeks to several months later.
It’s common for sexual assault victims to come forward much later, or even not at all, Sticht said. In half the cases reported to UPD, victims want “nothing to do with a police report,” he said. This makes it difficult for officials to determine the accuracy of UB’s sexual assault statistics.
UB’s sexual assault rates are low compared to similar-sized universities, according to Sticht. There were six sexual assaults in 2016 as of the last month. This is compared to eight assaults reported in 2015 and seven in 2014.
Still, officials have to assume sexual assaults go unreported, according to Sticht.
Resident Advisors report many of the incidents on behalf of students who don’t want to come forward. Half of these cases do not want to proceed with any charges, be it criminal processing or through the university.
“And yet, we have people come in here wanting to press criminal charges for offensive texts,” Sticht said.
Sexual assault victims have three options, according to Sticht – a criminal prosecution, the Student-Wide Judiciary, or not taking action at all.
Sharon Nolan-Weiss, director of UB’s Office of Equity, Diversion and Inclusion and Title IX coordinator, said one of the reasons victims don’t want to come forward with charges is because in all cases she has reviewed, the victim knows her perpetrator.
“When students come to college, their friends become like a replacement family, you take meals together and you wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that,” Nolan-Weiss said.
Victims may also fear that going through the story again will be more painful than the actual experience, according to Nolan-Weiss.
“I think sometimes people don’t realize what happened to them was rape, they think, this was my friend, maybe this was some miscommunication, victims don’t automatically realize, or in some cases they just want to forget it, that could be a valid psychological defense for them,” Nolan-Weiss said.
Victims sometimes worry about the consequences the other person will face. They often say, “I don’t want to ruin his life,” according to Nolan-Weiss.
Nolan-Weiss cited victim blaming as another reason students don’t come forward.
“In our society we kind of blame victims of sexual assault and victims then tend to blame themselves because victims grow up in this same society so it’s like, well, maybe if I hadn’t been dancing, maybe if I had dressed differently,” Nolan-Weiss said.
UB’s violence prevention team shifts messaging away from victims and toward potential offenders. Nolan-Weiss said cultural messaging is partly to blame for the perpetuation of unhealthy sexual dynamics.
“Boys are given these messages about sex that being a virgin is shameful, sex is something you have to kind of get from women, not something you engage in as part of a healthy relationship,” she said. “I tell my sons, how about you start by thinking of a woman as a human being and things will get a whole lot easier then.”
Nolan-Weiss also said girls are “steeped” in a different message when they get to college and sometimes, that makes them feel responsible for their own sexual assault.
“The message that we give to girls from very early on is that they should look sexy – look sexy, be sexy – they want to be attractive,” Nolan-Weiss said. “There’s messaging that sex is power, but then there’s this other messaging that’s really evil, that if a woman dresses that way, she’s a slut. So I think that there’s this kind of dual cultural messaging that you can’t really win.”
New York State legislation mandates university’s response to sexual assault. If an individual is found guilty, the only options are long-term suspension or expulsion and either are notated on their transcript.
The legislation is difficult, Nolan-Weiss said, because it doesn’t distinguish between pre-meditative, predator-like assault and assault where the person is still wrong, but did not mean to cause harm.
A campus-climate survey will be emailed to students in late October to gain a better understanding of how prevalent sexual assault is on-campus and how significantly it goes unreported, according to Nolan-Weiss.
Violence Prevention also added a crisis-advocate, Ashley Amidon, to their resources. Amidon meets with students involved in assault and goes to the victim’s dorm or wherever they are.