Safe or Silent?

One in five female college students reported being sexually assaulted according to one recent study. Experts also note that a rape occurs on a college campus every 21 hours.

At Clark, the numbers are much lower.

With only three sex offenses since 2011 and one rape ever recorded in its security report, Clark’s sexual assault numbers are fewer than the national—and even local—statistics.  The Vancouver Police Department counts 349 reported rapes since 2011.

While Clark’s numbers are impressively low, that doesn’t mean the campus—or any campus—is totally safe.

That’s because, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 80 percent of college sexual assaults are not reported.

“It doesn’t surprise me that only three are reported,” said Laurie Schacht, the sexual assault program director at the YWCA of Clark County.

Schacht said that more assaults have probably taken place at Clark. She bases that on statistics.

She noted that the YWCA serves 2,000 sexual assault survivors a year, including primary and secondary parties, enough for Schacht to conclude that “it is definitely under-reported.”

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reported an unscientific study at two major universities with voluntary participants to conclude that one in five female college students are sexually assaulted. Other studies show that this number is actually lower.

Clark counselor Dr. Bevyn Rowland agrees that despite the reports, the actual number of incidents is likely to be higher. Rowland said she schedules 18-25 student appointments a week, which includes follow-up appointments and returning students. Among those, she said about 40 percent of total students report a history of sexual violence where the victims tend not to report their cases.

Clark’s Director of Security and Safety Ken Pacheco attributes Clark’s low reported assault numbers to the college’s status as a commuter school and the safety protocols in practice.

“We don’t have residencies and we don’t have dormitories. We don’t have that problem,” said Pacheco. “Most schools that have dormitories, students are on campus almost 24 hours a day.” Pacheco said Clark’s campus closes at 10 p.m. on most days.

Washington State University Vancouver, like Clark, is a commuter school with no live-on communities, according to WSUV Police Officer Jeannette Hurt. Its annual security report shows only one sexual offense on its campus since 2011.

“We do not have after-hour access for students,” said Hurt. “So when buildings close, they’re closed.”

WSU Pullman has dorms and after-hour building access. The WSU security department recorded 24 on-campus sexual assaults since 2011 in its annual security report.

Pacheco and Hurt both said their respective campuses have tools to minimize sexual assault, such as security escorts, counseling centers, self-defense workshops and a whistle program.

Hurt brought the “Walk Safely” whistle program to WSUV about 18 years ago, she said. Clark adopted a similar program in March, which Hurt believes is based on the one at her school. Both programs provide safety whistles to the college community with a wristband and the school’s security phone number.

“It’s not just a rape whistle,” said Pacheco. “It’s a valuable tool that if somebody did get one they could blow it during an emergency.”

Hurt said that since the whistle’s availability, there is an influx in calls to the college’s security office. “It’s not just the whistle part that’s important, it’s having our phone number,” she said. “It advocates for good communication between the students and us.”

Clark’s Rowland pointed out that victim blaming is a main reason why sexual assaults aren’t reported.

She said it is a “normative human response.” Schacht defined victim blaming as “shifting the responsibility from the offender to the victim.”

This reaction is psychologically protective, Rowland said. “If we can blame the victim, then there’s an idea that we can protect ourselves from that happening to us, as opposed to the big, scary notion that the world is unpredictable and chaotic and that we could be victimized at any time.”

Schacht from the YWCA said that people often adapt to the possibility of sexual assault by making conscious behavior changes, like carrying a weapon, not taking night classes, dressing differently or wearing running shoes rather than high heels. “If they do all that stuff and something still happens to them, it leaves them feeling like it was their fault.”

Rowland said another deterrent from reporting is the legal system. She said victims worry that no one will believe them, and that they would have to see their perpetrator again, which is “the last thing they want to do.”

Eighty percent of assailants know their victims, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Schacht said this may hinder reporting credibility.

“The ‘stranger danger’ misconception implies that the person is going to be a stranger,” Schacht said. “The reality is, much more often than not, that it is not a stranger, that it is someone the victim knows, trusts or loves.”

In a case like this, Schacht said people won’t think to have a whistle with them.

Schacht identified whistle programs as risk reduction, a policy she wants to stray away from.

Schacht said a whistle may deter an assault from happening but it won’t prevent sexual assault at the core. “It’s not changing the behavior of the potential rapist,” she said.

However, both Hurt and Pacheco said the whistles were not meant specifically for rape or sexual assault.

Rowland, Pacheco, Hurt and Schacht all agreed that one thing they’d like to see Clark—and colleges altogether—improve on is sexual violence education.

Rowland said the Clark Counseling and Health Center is working with Student Life and Student Affairs to build more sexual assault presentations and awareness days. She said she would like to see bystander training, which is another way to focus on prevention rather than risk reduction.

“We want to make sure that everyone feels empowered, whether they’re a survivor or a bystander,” said Rowland.

Schacht said she wants to start more conversations about creating a culture around respect and consent. She wants to focus on healthy relationships and healthy sexuality.

Despite the low reports of sexual assault, Hurt said she is aware of the societal issue and that is why they continue their programs.

“We don’t rest on our laurels,” she said. “It’s our job as a college campus that students are given the information they need to get the help the need; to know the facts about the situation, to know how real it is.”

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