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The Communicator NEWS & POLITICS

Survivors, Officials Discuss Sexual Assault

Written by: Communicator StaffFebruary 21, 2018

Written by: Rebecca Sippel

Just because people aren’t talking about it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in America, with 63 percent of sexual assault cases left unreported to the police, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Khadijah Walters, a 23-year-old department secretary for Parkview Health, became a part of the 63 percent when she was only 8 years old.

“I can still picture myself in the room, the way the bed was, the way the dresser was, where the TV was. Everything,” Walters said. “It is almost surreal because I am literally traveling back in my head over 10 years, and every time I tell that story I can mentally go right back.”

Sexual assault is defined as, “Any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient,” according to the United States Department of Justice.

Walters’ said her stepbrother, who was 12 years old at the time, sexually assaulted her for four years before she finally told her mom.

After, she said her step-brother was moved out of the house and her parents got a divorce. Her mom never reported her case to the police.

“I know the police do physical checks and I know she probably just didn’t want me exposed to all of that, or to just have to relive it by telling the story over and over again,” Walters said.

Linn Armstrong, a police officer at IPFW, said the police understand that reporting a sexual assault case can be mentally stressing, so they try to make the process as comfortable as possible for victims.

“So they don’t get over-questioned too much, we can ask basic questions,” Armstrong said, “and then when they go to the sexual assault treatment center, then they go through a forensic examination and a forensic interview, which keeps them from getting asked the same questions too many times.”

Armstrong said it is important for victims of sexual assault to report their cases because the person who committed the crime may do it again.

According to the Health Research Funding website, 35 percent of rapists repeat their offenses. This number jumps to 63 percent on college campuses according to a study of 1,882 college men, that was published in the academic journal Violence and Victims.

The percentage of sexual assaults that go unreported is also greater on college campuses, with over 90 percent of sexual assault victims not reporting their cases, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Eric Norman, dean of students at IPFW, said the issue is personal to him, as one of his family members was sexually assaulted. He hopes to drive up reporting at the university.

“We do take these reports serious; we do follow through on them,” Norman said. “We make sure, if we have the ability to investigate, we do that to the best of our abilities.”

Norman said a number of accommodations can be made for students who report cases, including arranging alternative living situations, setting up no-contact orders, counseling, police escorts to and from class, and adjusting class schedules.

In addition, IPFW offers free counselling through the IPFW/Parkview Student Assistance Program on Monday through Friday in Walb Student Union, room 113.

Walters said going to counselling from the ages 15 to 19 helped her deal with the aggression and depression she faced after her sexual assault. She said talking about her assault was uncomfortable at first, but it played a large role in her recovery.

Once she started opening up to her friends about her sexual assault, Walters said she was shocked to discover that most of them had had a similar experience.

“I found out a lot of my friends have been molested like me, a whole lot. Like almost every friend,” Walters said. “And I haven’t met a person yet who was sexually assaulted by a complete stranger, it was always somebody who they knew and who they trusted.”

In 8 out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

Christine Marcuccilli, the Title IX coordinator at IPFW, said the victim’s relationship to the person who assaulted them could be a factor in why so few people choose to report their cases, along with social stigma or fear of not being believed.

Marcuccilli said the reporting process at IPFW is entirely victim-centered. She said it is up to the survivor whether or not they want to press charges or identify the person who sexually assaulted them.

Students can report their case to several locations, which include the police, their RA, the dean of students, the Title IX office or one of their professors, Marcuccilli said.

Professors, RAs, and student affairs are all required to notify the Title IX office if someone reports a sexual assault to them. Marcuccilli said there are also confidential places for students to report, such as the counselling center, a medical provider, the sexual assault treatment center or their clergy members.

Marcuccilli said victims of sexual assault should know there is an amnesty policy, which means students who seek medical attention as a result of illegal actions are protected from liability.

“So you are 20 years old and you’re at a party drinking and something happened, we are not interested in disciplining you for conduct things if there was a sexual assault that occurred,” Marcuccilli said. “Our first priority is safety, getting to class, and addressing that sexual violence issue.”

Marcuccilli said the formal process of investigating a sexual assault report lasts around 30 to 60 days, but no-contact orders and adjustments to academic situations can happen the same day the report was made.

IPFW policy requires that reports of any type of harassment be made within 120 days of the event. However, Marcuccilli said a university investigation can be opened any time.

“When victim survivors come forward and say this happened to me last year, last semester, anywhere outside that window of them personally filing that report, the university will always look into it,” Marcuccilli said. “We will always offer resources and we will always make that safety assessment.”