‘Victim-blaming’ may explain rape and sexual assault study

By Jessica Brown, @BrownJessicaJ

College rapes in the U.S. decreased from 1995 to 2013, according to a study by the Department of Justice.

Or have they?

The December 2014 study states while the 18 to 24 year-old age group had the highest rate of rape and sexual assault victimizations in comparison to other age groups, non-students from 18 to 24 reported sexual assault at a rate 1.2 times greater than college students.

Advertisement

However, Kandace Kellett-Riddle, a women, gender and sexuality studies instructor, is not convinced sexual assaults for non-students are more common than for students.

“It doesn’t mean that rapes have gone down on college campuses,” she said. “All it could mean is that victims are continuing not to report, and that’s a huge issue.”

She said women choose not to report a sexual assault or rape for a variety of reasons.

About 80 percent of college students interviewed for the Department of Justice study said they did not report an assault that occurred, as opposed to roughly 67 percent of non-students.

The study also states 12 percent of student victims said they did not think the incident was important enough to report, while only 5 percent of non-student victims thought the same.

“Last semester, in the first seven weeks of class, I had five young women who were either students that I knew, or whom a student had referred to me, come up to me to report that they had been raped,” Kellett-Riddle said.

As a campus employee, she is required by the Clery Act to report the sexual assaults to the university.

Advertisement

Of those five women, just two of them had reported before coming to Kellett-Riddle. The assaults, though in Carbondale, did not take place on SIU property, she said.

“One of them felt embarrassed because she knew and trusted the person,” Kellett-Riddle said of one of the rapes. “They were friends and he forced himself on her. One of them was drugged at a party off campus, one was assaulted by a group of guys while walking back to her home.”

She said victim-blaming plays a major role in the failure to report.

“Rape and sexual assault are the only crimes where the perpetrator is thought to be innocent, and the victim is thought to be guilty,” Kellett-Riddle said.

She said one reason women do not want to report is because when they do they are subjected to scrutiny in addition to the traumatic experience they underwent—especially on college campuses.

Tyler Marvin, a freshman from Bradenton, Fla., studying aviation maintenance technology, said this may have to do with some of the activities students participate in on campus.

“There’s a lot of drunkenness and disorderly conduct,” he said. “People think she deserved it or he deserved it because they’re just some stupid person who was drunk, but they were really just taken advantage of and are a victim of a crime.”

Other students believe administration and faculty play a role in failure to report assault.

“They try to downplay it so they don’t get reported on the news or get a bad reputation for their school,” said Cailey Vandermark, a junior from Aurora studying zoology.

Kellett-Riddle said reporting sexual crimes is necessary but gave advice to those who do not.

“Women need to remember that this is not their fault, and they do need to report, because it is serious,” Kellett-Riddle said. “If you do choose not to report, however, at least seek help.”

During this academic year, there have been seven sexual assaults reported according to the the Department of Public Safety daily crime log—none of which have occurred this semester.

Advertisement