Victims of Sexual Assault Confront Challenges of Reporting

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In light of that, the prevalence of assault on college campuses is at the forefront of national conversation. However, one crucial part of the issue still receives little attention: the resources a victim can utilize to report sexual assault.

Sexual assault falls under Title IX, which protects students from discrimination based on sex. As a result, every A&M student, and every college student nationwide, has the right to file a complaint along with any relevant evidence or witnesses to the university they attend. This action will potentially suspend the perpetrator. They may also file a report with local law enforcement if they believe a crime has occurred, which may have the perpetrator marked as a registered sex offender. After a Title IX investigation, the complaint will be deemed either substantial or insubstantial. This decision cannot be appealed.

The result of a Title IX investigation is irreversible for valid reasons. However, it makes the victim’s journey towards justice even more harrowing than it inherently is. According to NY Daily News, universities often lack consistent policies and substantial experience when dealing with sex crimes. This results in convoluted investigations, which leave both victims and perpetrators confused. The confusion is instigated even further when the university has an inherent bias, which is often caused by cases that put its reputation at stake.

Unfortunately, the process of filing a university level complaint can be emotionally draining regardless of whether the school has anything at stake.

Texas A&M student Madison Auerbach estimated that, after filing a sexual assault report with the university, she had to tell her story around eleven times and described it as “frustrating” but “something you have to get used to.”

Fellow Aggie Nikki Platamone agreed, “because when you retell it, you relive it.” She wishes the university had handled her report more efficiently, confessing that “if they had asked me to record myself saying it the first time, I would’ve said yes.”

Filing a report through law enforcement is an emotionally difficult process. It’s quite common for police officers and lawyers to avoid cases that involve insubstantial evidence or issues with consent, which contributes to why approximately 97% of rapists avoid prison.

Another potential contributor to this statistic is the fact that sexual assault has the single lowest reporting rate of all crimes. The ACLU estimates that 95% of rapes on college campuses go unreported, and the National Institute of Justice believes that some of the biggest reasons for this include a distrust of authorities and a fear of victim blaming.

In order to help alleviate these emotional hurdles, victims have rights to certain resources. According to the National Sexual Assault Hotline, the state will pay for the victim’s sexual assault medical exam and even offer relocation services if needed. Counseling services are also available for as long as the individual needs them. Platamone said she was frequently directed to Student Counseling Services in her communications with A&M and eventually went on to find the service extremely beneficial.

However, the process of recovering from sexual assault looks different for everyone, and while every victim has access to the same resources, there is no correct way to use them.

Although some survivors are adamant about receiving institutional justice, some “aren’t even ready to talk about it or confront what happened to them until it’s too late to report, or ever,” sexual assault advocate Kamilah Willingham told NY Daily News. “I want survivors to know that that’s okay, too.”

Although in a perfect world, victims would experience no emotional baggage from reporting assault, institutional problems have taken us far from that ideality. To victims who do report, Auerbach suggests “going with a friend and just having a support through it all.”

Texas A&M recommends victims report assaults through the University Police Department at 979-845-2345 or the online report form at tellsomebody.tamu.edu.

 

Editor's Note: There are resources readily available at both Texas A&M University and nationally for victims of sexual violence, sexual harassment, dating violence, domestic violence and/or stalking.

TAMU University Police: 979-845-2345

TAMU Student Counseling Service (SCS): 979-845-4427

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Sexual Assault Resource Center: 1-979-731-1000

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673