Stigma impacts sexual assault reports

by Elpin Keshishzadeh

One in 10 young adults between the ages of 14 and 21 have been a victim of an act of sexual violence at least once, according to a recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association .

Although someone in the U.S. experiences sexual violence every 2 minutes, about 60 percent of these assaults are often left unreported, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.

“We live in a society in which gendered violence is so normalized and sometimes even glorified,” Women’s Studies Assistant professor Anh Hua said. “Much healing is needed for the perpetrators as well as the survivors of gendered violence. We have failed to revere, honor, value and respect women, elders and even children at the local, national and global levels.”

Last year, 21 forcible sexual offense cases were reported to the San Diego State Police Department, according to the annual SDSUPD crime report. Twelve of these cases took place on campus.

Considering these statistics, French sophomore Alicia Winokur said violence may be an understated problem on campus.

“It is a huge problem on campus, but it is underreported,” Winokur said. “With the number that the university has reported, there is no way that’s accurate on a campus with 30,000 students.”

The majority of sexually violent cases occur between people with a preexisting relationship, and most of these cases involve the consumption of alcohol, the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities Director Lee Mintz said.

“If students choose to consume alcohol, they should make sure that they are not consuming so much that their awareness, judgment, or ability to give proper consent is hindered,” Mintz said.  “All students should be wary of accepting drinks that are handed to them … incidents where students have been given an impairing substance in their drink have occurred.”

The misconception that sexual violence occurs in a dark alley with a stranger instead of with someone you know, care about and trust makes the situation harder to accept and even more difficult to report, Winokur said.

Hua explains that the stigma surrounding sexual violence stemmed from negative connotations regarding the victimization of the survivor.

“No one wants to be perceived as a victim. It is important to break that silence around gendered violence and create a collective public space of healing, in particular for women and young girls, to share their stories and experiences,” Hua said.

As for the definition of consent, Hua said that “no” does not have a double meaning, as it is often perceived in sexual violence cases.

“The biggest part is being able to define rape much better because most people on campus don’t know,” Andrea O’Donnell Womyn’s Outreach Association president and sociology junior Kaia Los Huertos said. “Someone talking you into having sex, someone asking numerous times and you said ‘no,’ except the last time you said ‘yes,’ that’s not consent. It is really important to have conversations about consent, because the biggest problem is that consent isn’t a black-and-white thing.”

SDSUPD and the Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities partnered up to spread education about sexual violence on campus, but given its size and location, precautionary actions were advised.

“We recognize the importance of engaging the community through proactive education in an effort to reduce the chances of victimization in these cases,” SDSUPD Lt. Joshua Mays said. “The campus is in the middle of an active, urban area and we encourage all students to take the necessary precautions such as reporting suspicious activity to police, utilizing the safety escort service, not engaging in alcohol or drug use, attending parties with friends and developing a plan before going out.”

In the event of a sexual violence act, it’s encouraged to report the occurrence to either SDSUPD or Mintz, in the case that the survivor does not wish to press criminal charges.

“Any survivor of sexual misconduct is not alone. There are many people at the university, myself included, that care greatly for any and all students and wish to help navigate the process of reporting, counseling, living arrangements, classes and other issues that may arise,” Mintz said.

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