The recent UW crime warning issued Thursday didn’t surprise me. It didn’t surprise a lot of people, I’d imagine. Reports of sexual assault appear all too frequently in our community, making it inevitable that more crime warnings just like this one will filter into our inboxes. With every report, the question is raised: How do we stop sexual assault on campus? That is a question with no definitive solution, especially because sexual assault is highly correlated with alcohol consumption, an extremely prevalent part of our campus culture.
This isn’t to say that measures haven’t been taken to try and stop sexual assault. But what have programs like Tonight accomplished? Are they working? It sure doesn’t seem like it.
I believe that sexual assault on campus will decrease if victims believe they can hold perpetrators responsible and perpetrators actually fear the consequences of their heinous actions. But it’s nearly impossible to stem the high rate of sexual assault when only 1 percent of these incidences are reported to law enforcement.
It’s demoralizing that 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual assault evade the consequences of their actions. Some are not even subject to investigation.
It’s unfortunate that the onus is placed on the victim to take action against the perpetrator. I can’t fathom how painful it is to have to come to terms with experiencing sexual assault. Staying silent is, of course, the victim’s choice, but staying silent helps no one. Not reporting a rape undermines the seriousness of sexual assault and the wounds it inflicts on victims. Perpetrators need to be held responsible, period.
Two recent cases of reported sexual assault have surfaced, and the contrast between how the situations were handled is striking.
In one instance, a woman who fought off an attempted sexual assault informed Madison Police of the incident. Because of her action, an investigation has ensued.
In the second instance, the victim who was assaulted at a fraternity and may have been drugged reported the incident to a campus security authority.
Both victims took action by telling someone. But because the victim in the second incident told a campus security authority and not a law enforcement unit, no investigation was launched.
This campus security authority could have been any official of UW whose job involved relationships with students: a house fellow, an athletic director or staff who supervise student employees. The bottom line is that an investigation couldn’t begin because law enforcement was not directly informed.
I’m not blaming the victim in the second incident. If they chose not to report to the police for any reason, that is their right entirely. But I have to ask why. Do victims not feel comfortable reporting it to law enforcement? Do they feel the investigation might lack evidence? Do victims think that reporting the incident won’t do any good to bring about justice? Regardless of their reasons, all victims should feel empowered to take decisive action and to know that they deserve justice.
Perhaps if more sexual assault cases are reported to law enforcement, perpetrators will start taking rape more seriously. They might reconsider someone else’s ability to consent a little more carefully the next time they’re at a party.
Rape is not always met with physical resistance, but people grossly misunderstand that a lack of resistance does not mean consent is given. This leads to many victims feeling unjustified in opening an investigation against their perpetrator, if they didn’t or couldn’t resist. That’s devastating, and that’s a problem.
Without more action taken against those who commit sexual assault, rape culture cannot be challenged. We’ll continue to receive these crime warnings, each one representing a victim’s sense of safety and well-being torn from them.
Victims need to know they can be brought justice, and only by encouraging the report of sexual assault can we begin to confront the threat of rape culture on our campus.