Editorial: Start reporting sexual assault

By The Beacon | September 28, 2011 9:00pm

By The Beacon's Editorial Board

According to statistics in the 2010 Department of Public Safety Crime and Fire Report, there was an increase in reported forcible sex offenses – otherwise known as sexual assault – at the University of Portland.

The report describes forcible sex offenses as any sexual act towards another person against their will or when the victim is incapable of giving consent.

Two forcible sex offenses were reported last year to the University between January and December.  This is considerably less than statistics from the National Institute of Justice, which estimates that 3 percent of all college women become victims of either completed or attempted rape in a given nine-month academic year.

However, many victims of sexual assault fail to report it. Sexual assault is a crime. It needs to be reported.

Though victims may fear being sexually assaulted comes with a social stigma, there is a bigger issue at hand: when sexual assault goes unreported, people are getting away with a serious crime. Perhaps if more offenses were reported, the stigma would be reduced, and sexual assault would be less likely to occur because it would expose more perpetrators. Potential assailants might think twice before violating a fellow student if they knew they wouldn't get away with it.

A victim of sexual assault may hesitate to report it if she was drinking, fearing that she might have been potentially responsible for the assault. However, let's be clear: drinking or not, it is never the victim's fault.

Furthermore, victims should not fear being disciplined by the University if the assault happened while they were in violation with a University policy, such as underage drinking or intervisitation hours. In its sexual assault policy, the University says it will not pursue potential policy violations if they occurred in the context of the sexual assault

Moreover, the University is committed to obtaining the consent of the person sexually assaulted to pursue disciplinary action prior to an investigation into the alleged assault.

Sexual assault may also be underreported because many victims may fear being re-victimized by the system, as many colleges and universities have been criticized for mishandling reports of sexual assault.

There are a variety of ways to report sexual assault if you or someone else is uncomfortable reporting the assault to Public Safety or other campus departments. Sexual assault can be reported to Portland Police Bureau or Portland Women's Crisis Line. For a full list of support services, see page three in this issue of The Beacon.

If you witness an encounter that may lead to or is a sexual assault, get involved and stop it, even if it is an uncomfortable situation.

Though sexual assault is never the victim's fault, students should realize they put themselves at a greater risk of being sexually assaulted when they are inebriated. Date rape drugs are an unfortunate reality at every college and university. Be wary of who offers you a drink and watch your drink.

Finally, be aware. If you plan on spending a night drinking, stay with a group of reliable friends and watch out for one another.