Sexual assualt underreported


A column was published recently in the Los Angeles Times arguing that, contrary to national statistics, it is impossible for one in four college-aged women to be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. At Northern, however, those numbers seem fairly accurate.

Sexual Assault Program Manager Lori Connelly who works at the Women’s Center of Marquette said that about one in four women are sexually assaulted in Marquette. Those numbers are pretty accurate, but it is very difficult to ever really know the proper numbers because so many people don’t come forward.

“There’s no way we’re ever going to be able to accurately assess [the numbers]. That’s one of our problems with sexual assault,” Connelly said. “It’s very underreported and the most misunderstood crime.”

About 50 percent of the women who come into the Women’s Center are college-aged women who come to talk about their experience with sexual assault, Connelly added.

Don Peterman, Crime Prevention Specialist for Public Safety and instructor of the Rape Aggression and Defense (RAD) class on campus said that during RAD many women speak openly about the impact of sexual assault in their lives.

“I’ve done at least 56 RAD classes and everyone has seen some form of sexual assault,” Peterman said. “Every hand has always gone up; it’s either happened to them, a friend or somebody they know. It sure seems there’s a lot of it going on.”

Sexual assault isn’t overwhelming on this campus, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem, Peterman said.

“It happens all too frequently; it shouldn’t be one in 100, it shouldn’t even be one in 10,000,” he said. “I think it’s a crisis if it’s one person. If it’s you, a friend, a

loved one, anyone you know, to me it’s a crisis. One is too many.”

The reason that some universities don’t openly discuss sexual assaults on their campuses is because they don’t want people to know about it, Connelly said. It makes the campus un-sellable.

“A lot of universities do cover it up because they don’t want people to know how pervasive this is,” she said. “A lot of girls will not report it to police because they don’t want their parents knowing about it. They don’t want to go home; they want to finish out their college careers.”

Nine of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003, according to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network.

So many people think it can’t happen to them and that’s why people are so judgmental, Connelly added.

“We think because we don’t wear low-cut blouses or have tattoos on our stomach it won’t happen to us,” she said. “But it can happen anytime anywhere, sex is non-discriminatory,” she said.

After many RAD classes women have come forward and told stories they had never shared before of sexual assault happening to them, Peterman said.

“The first thing we try and let them know is it’s not your fault, it’s never your fault,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been drinking or did something to add to it, the way you dressed or acted, it’s never your fault,” he said.

In addition to being less judgmental, women can take steps by using the buddy system or making sure friends aren’t in any danger, Connelly said.

“We as women need to look out for ourselves and look out for other women,” she said. “Women are harder on other women than men are ever going to be; we’re always in competition with one another. What we need to do is support each other and make sure our friends are safe.”

It is also very important to believe someone if she says she has been sexually assaulted, Connelly said. The best thing for rape survivors to do is tell someone and seek help early on to prevent them from having difficulties later on in their lives, Connelly said. The Women’s Center helps women understand their options.

“They need to realize they are strong women and they can stand up on their own two feet after these things have happened to them,” she said. “They can take the power back and make their own choices and not let people make the choices for them.”

More women should come forth, even if it’s only to do a police report, because then the perpetrator has to acknowledge what he has done, Connelly said.

“It holds them accountable for their actions and a lot of times that’s what we need. You’re taking the power away from them,” she said.’