Sexual assault claims under-reported, officials say

By Josh Harvison - bio | email

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – There are more victims of sexual assault who fail to report the crime to law enforcement, which means the number of cases reported to police is much higher according to the Center for Public Integrity. According to Vicki Crego at the Women's Crisis Center of Northeast Arkansas, women choose not to report the crime for several reasons, and universities are no different.

"I absolutely think sexual assaults are underreported. They are among the most under reported crimes that we know about for several reasons," said Crego. "Some rape victims may feel ashamed. Some may even self blame, even though we know that victims of rape are not to blame."

The crime is on the rise. According to statistics pulled from Arkansas State University, University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, more women reported being victims of sex crimes in 2008 than the two previous years.

"That is why we, as a society, would hope that rape victims would come forward and that they would be treated with dignity and respect by everyone who participates in the investigation," said Crego. "The decision to come forward for rape victims is such a very personal decision to make. Only they can make that decision."

Arkansas State University at Jonesboro reported three forced sexual offenses in 2008, two in 2007 and two in 2006. The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville reported four in 2008, four in 2007 and three in 2006. The University of Central Arkansas reported two in 2008, one in 2007 and one in 2006.

"I do think that there are considerably more than are reported. That's true in an off campus setting as well as on campus and is certainly nothing unique to ASU," said Dr. Phil Hestand, Director of Counseling Services at ASU. "That includes any kind of unwanted sexual pressuring or unwanted touching or just feeling that you've been made uncomfortable by someone else's advances."

Hestand said tracking down the number of sexual assault crimes is difficult.

"Most of what is being reported would be actual rapes, which is really a narrowing of the definition of sexual assault," said Hestand. "Once they make a report, they go through a series of interviews and then obviously the court situation can be pretty embarrassing for the individual."

"Victims of sexual assault are simply traumatized. Many suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They may not always immediately come forward because they are afraid of the criminal justice system," said Crego.

Crego and Hestand said victims sometimes don't trust the court system because they may not believe their allegation. Crego said the longer a victim waits, the more likely evidence will disappear.

"If the victim was not ready right then to come forward, that valuable evidence may have been lost," said Crego. "If they were sexually assaulted and they have been possibly drinking or something during the evening that makes them feel some guilt."

"We would want the perpetrator to be caught so that the cycle of sexual assault with that individual doesn't continue and other people don't get hurt," said Crego.

Victims of sexual assault can obtain reimbursements for court costs and similar financial losses through the Arkansas Attorney General's Office through the Sexual Assault Reimbursement Program. Click here to read more.

"No one deserves to be a victim of sexual assault. Everyone has a right to feel safe," said Hestand. "When someone is victimized by sexual assault, they deserve our support and our help and not afraid of victimization."

Hestand said most victims don't come to ASU's counseling center until they've become depressed, have anxiety attacks or feel guilty.

"It's not uncommon, but I think what we have to recognize is that nationwide that statistics are that about 15-16% of women have experienced attempted or rape, and three percent of men," said Hestand. "It's significant and what I would say is that all of us have friends and family members who have experienced this even if we're not aware of it."

"They are out having a great time and things like that, so we need to make sure that they understand what the risks are for females and for males," said Crego. "They need to be very aware of keeping track of their own beverages, keeping track of the time, keeping track of who is in the house and all of those kinds of things. Just having a strong awareness of your environment and your surroundings can make all the difference sometimes."

Hestand said most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, so it's important couples talk about their intentions.

"Just as we would tell someone who was going to drink alcohol that they should have a designated driver, you want to have someone who is around looking out for you," said Hestand.

"This happens everywhere. I don't think this crime is any worse or better in any given area. I think it's very widespread all over," said Crego.

For additional information or support, contact the Women's Crisis Center of Northeast Arkansas at 870-972-9575.

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