6 Reasons Why Students Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Research has shown time and time again that between 20 and 25 percent of college women are sexually assaulted. And that’s just college-age women. The number of LGBTQIA students who are the victims of sexual violence is also extremely high. Plus, men are also coming forward more often to report they’ve been sexually assaulted.
What Percentage of Campus Sexual Assaults Are Reported?
With such high numbers of sexual violence, you would think that most of the students are reporting when something happens to them. But that’s just not the case. In fact, the number of students who report is dreadfully low.
A 2014 Department of Justice (DOJ) study discovered only 20 percent of female students, age 18-24 who experienced sexual violence, report to law enforcement.
The Association of American Universities (AAU) found in their campus climate survey that, “Overall rates of reporting to campus officials and law enforcement or others were low, ranging from five percent to 28 percent, depending on the specific type of behavior.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that 95 percent of U.S. campus rapes go unreported.
Why Aren’t Students Coming Forward?
So what’s happening? Why aren’t students coming forward to report sexual assault?
A 2007 study funded by the DOJ uncovered many different reasons that have remained fairly consistent over the years. Specifically, researchers found that students:
- Said they did not have proof that the incident occurred
- Were afraid of retaliation by the perpetrator
- Were scared of hostile treatment by the authorities
- Were uncertain the authorities would consider the incident serious enough
- Wanted to prevent family and others from learning about it
- Didn’t know how to report the incident
Most startling of all though is that, “Victims may not define the event as sexual assault or report the incident because they are embarrassed, are reluctant to consider someone they know as a rapist, or do not understand the legal definition of sexual assault.”
Overall, it seems that fear and confusion are the main reasons students don’t report sexual violence. So it just makes sense to combat this with education—and there is a lot that campuses are doing to educate their students.
What Are Colleges Doing to Prevent Sexual Assault?
Here are three things colleges and universities are doing to educate students about sexual violence to encourage them to take an active role in prevention and come forward to report.
Bystander Intervention Training
One of the most promising strategies campuses are using to prevent sexual assault and encourage reporting is bystander intervention training. We’ve covered bystander intervention in more detail here if you want to learn more.
But the basic premise is that sexual violence is everyone’s responsibility, which means everyone on campus can do something to intervene and stop it, instead of remaining inactive or silent.
In order to reduce confusion and help students clearly identify what is and isn’t sexual assault, colleges are adopting new, more updated definitions of consent. For example, California one was on the first states to require colleges and universities to use affirmative consent, which means “affirmative, conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity — throughout the encounter, removing ambiguity for both parties.”
Overhauling Investigation & Response Processes
Title IX coordinators are responsible for a lot of different things, including investigating allegations of sexual violence. And many colleges and universities are working hard to change investigation processes that aren’t working. Some of the specific things they are doing include:
- Providing more training to Title IX coordinators on how to conduct an investigation
- Reviewing and updating disciplinary processes to involve more experts
- Increasing penalties for perpetrators of sexual violence
- Updating their websites with more information on survivor resources
- Additional survivor-centered training to help faculty and staff respond to students
The majority of instances of sexual violence are unreported. A big reason why is that students don’t know how to identify what’s happened and even when they do, they are afraid to come forward.
However, things are getting better. Colleges are universities are using promising strategies, like bystander intervention training, to encourage prevention and reporting.