A sad reality of college life is that it’s all too common to know a victim of sexual assault.
An even more unfortunate realization is that statistics might only show a portion of the true number of assaults that occur. There are numerous occasions in which these incidents fly completely under the radar and are never brought to the attention of university officials.
Recently, a student at Moravian College filed a lawsuit against the school for failing to take necessary action after she reported a sexual assault in 2016. The school’s lack of accountability could heighten victims’ unwillingness to report, scared they won’t be heard or their reports will be mishandled.
This could be why an alleged victim waited decades before coming forth with an allegation of sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Perhaps she was worried there would be no action taken, prompting her to keep her silence.
Given that many students know of cases that go unreported, Lehigh’s statistic seems low. Some might credit this lack of reporting to Lehigh’s ‘hook-up’ culture, in which a hyper-sexual atmosphere might create an illusion of normality for some cases of sexual assault.
Victims might be deterred from reporting simply based on the fact that the statistic seems so low — they might think no one is reporting, or that sexual assault doesn’t happen here.
They might feel discouraged to report because of Lehigh’s small size. On a campus where everyone knows each other in one way or another, victims might fear for their reputations because word travels fast.
Victims might also be confronted with more than the word-of-mouth. At a smaller school, they might encounter their aggressors more often than they would at a larger school, where it is easier to get lost in the crowd.
There are many factors that discourage victims from reporting cases of sexual assault. On top of social pressures, the reporting process is discouraged by its own bureaucratic nature. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that from 2005-2010, out of the sexual violence crimes not reported to police, 20 percent of victims feared retaliation and 13 percent of victims believed the police would not do anything to help.
Christine Blasey Ford, the woman accusing Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has had to reveal her identity to the country. She has had to relive the frightening moments of her assault, and now she will have to relive those moments in front of the eyes of the country, including those of President Donald Trump who claimed in a tweet that Kavanaugh is a “fine man, with an impeccable reputation.”
Someone who is surrounded by a reasonable suspicion of sexual assault should never hold the office of a judge, where one is tasked with the responsibility of making ethical decisions and informing precedent. If Kavanaugh is found guilty, it would be a disaster to give him the power to make decisions that will impact our nation.
We can only hope that those with the courage to speak up will encourage other victims to do the same.
The #MeToo movement is proof that there is progress, as many people, mostly women, are now willing to speak up against sexual assault. While there’s no way to know for sure, Ford’s decision to come forward may very well have been a result of the movement, giving the nation a platform to discuss issues of sexual assault.
There are platforms at Lehigh, too. On-campus organizations and entities such as Break The Silence and Gender Violence Education & Support provide resources to combat sexual assault and show that it’s OK to speak up.