JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - The fear of potential fallout or negative consequences, like events being canceled, is a real issue for some sexual assault victims that may keep them from reporting incidents to police, or recanting the incident altogether.
"We see some of that and I think it varies as to cause and reason," Director of the A-State Counseling Center Dr. Phil Hestand said about victims feeling shame when they come forward.
The counseling center is available for free to help students deal with trauma like sexual assault, and Dr. Hestand said they see a significant number of students who seek help for sexual abuse.
He said the counselors can't force or coerce a victim into reporting a sexual assault to police but encourage them to if it will help others.
"There are certain people on campus who if they know about a sexual assault they have to report it to the police," Dr. Hestand said. "We do not. We're exempt under all of the Clery laws and so forth. We might encourage a young lady to report if it seemed that it would be in her best interest to do so, but we won't do it for her."
But, Hestand said shaming or fear of the consequences for those around them should not be put before a victim's safety or health.
"So many of the sexual assaults that occur on a college campus are among people who know each other," he said. "And so it may be that they've been assaulted by somebody who's in a friend group that they're also a member of and so that adds some pressure to it. If the person's friends are not supportive of them reporting because they know the perpetrator as well and don't want to see that person get in trouble."
Hestand said he does see victims who might feel ashamed or embarrassed and they try to work through those issues.
He wanted to make it clear that students should at least take care of their mental health even if they do not want to report the assault to police, but they do encourage victims to report assaults to police.
"I understand that for a lot of folks, especially young women, it's difficult sometimes to come forward, but what I would say is that for their own mental health, not only now but in the future, they should get the help that they need."
He assured that all of the counseling center records are considered medical, not educational, so they are protected under federal HIPAA laws and will remain private.
The A-State counseling center will also be helping with the social and risk reduction training planned for A-State Greek life next month.
They will be talking about prevention activities and bystander intervention so students can be better prepared to stop assaults from happening.
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