Rape is a four-letter word

One out of four women are victims of sexual assault and rape in the U.S., but only one-third of these crimes are reported.

Since Oct. 2011, there have been 17 cases of sexual misconduct filed with Georgia State’s Dean of Students. During that same time, 11 cases of criminal sexual misconduct were reported to Georgia State Police.

Statistically, with a student population of more than 31,000 students, rapes and sexual assaults are grossly underreported at Georgia State.

‘Silence does not equal consent’

Low numbers of sexual misconduct reports may have a lot to do with misconceptions about what is—and isn’t—rape.

“I think one of the most misunderstood concepts is the concept of effective consent,” said Dr. Rebecca Stout, vice president for the Dean of Students. “Most of the areas of sexual misconduct, particularly in sexual assault, are about a lack of understanding or a lack of respect for both individuals to consent to whatever the action is.”

Many victims said they didn’t say “yes,” but admitted that they didn’t say “no,” either.

“Individuals might consent to coming over to an apartment or to someone’s room; they might consent to something more than that,” Stout said.

The burden of consent is not only on the person that is experiencing the unwanted advances—a person engaging in a sexual act with another is responsible for fully knowing if their advances are wanted.

“Silence does not equal consent,” Stout said.

Effective consent is freely and actively given before the time of a sexual act. It must be mutually understandable and an informed decision.

“But unless there is an understanding with both people that there is consent related to what ends up being a sexual assault, that type of behavior is something individuals need to have better communication about, and have better respect for each other’s wishes,” Stout said.

Another complication is that most victims know their rapist.

“The most common type of sexual assault is a rape by a known perpetrator,” said Dr. Jill Lee-Barber, director of the Counseling and Testing Center at Georgia State.   “Again, national survey data indicate that nearly 70 percent of rapes of university women are perpetrated by people they know: boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, friends, etc.”

The fact that most rapes and instances of sexual misconduct occur between two individuals that know each other also might lead to misconceptions of what rape is.

A report by R. Lance Shotland and Lynne Goodstein in Social Psychcology Quarterly on attitudes towards rape stated “individuals, both as actors and observers, are unlikely to perceive acquaintance rape as ‘real’ rape.”

Students at Georgia State believe that misconception as well.

“The majority of the perpetrators report that what they did was not rape,” Lee-Barber said. “They report a variety of reasons for feeling that they had permission to engage in non-consensual sex with the victim, including both parties were drunk, she didn’t stop him or fight him off, she kissed him once, she was in his room, she went on a date with him, she flirted with him earlier…”

Men that participated in the study published by Social Psychcology Quarterly looked at scenarios of questionable sexual acts. Subjects of the study believed the man was too forceful and the woman had a right to ask him to stop, but many were reluctant to label acts as sexual misconduct and rape.

The study said some of the reasons that sexual assault by an attacker known by the victim, or “date” rape, might be mislabeled because of cultural beliefs that women dodge sexual advances, although they have sexual interest in the man.

Another belief the study found that could change male attitudes towards rape was the stereotype that it is the responsibility of the man to be the dominant party in sexual activity and, sometimes violently, advance sexual situations.

“Most of the time on campus we do not have sexual assault incidents that are stranger on stranger; it’s usually date related: I know you, something goes wrong. Those are the kinds we usually get,” said Lt. David Hickey, of Georgia State Police investigations.

Hickey, who has been with GSUPD for 12 years, said his investigators are thorough, and unfortunately have plenty of experience investigating sexual assaults on campus.

Of the 11 GSUPD reports for sexual assault and rape for the past year, 10 of the alleged incidents occurred on Georgia State property.

16 percent of reported cases end in a conviction 

According to Stout, a GSUPD investigation and an investigation by the Dean of Students are completely separate.

“We are required, under the Clery Act, to report particular types of crimes, depending on whether that person wants that information to be a police report is completely up to them,” Stout said.

If a student chooses to report a case of sexual misconduct to the Dean of Students, an investigation is started to see if the charged student is responsible for breaking Georgia State’s code of conduct.

Georgia State can only investigate a sexual assault or misconduct case if both parties are students. Incidents like sexual assault could result in an expulsion from campus. The severity of the incident will dictate the sanction the university applies to the charged student.

Making a criminal report with GSUPD is very different than reporting to the university.

The first thing the police do is send the victim to Grady Hospital’s rape crisis center.

“It’s straightforward,” Hickey said of the investigation process.

After investigators talk to the victim it is up to the Atlanta District Attorney’s office to decide if there is something to prosecute.  Many times, according to Hickey, the Atlanta DA chooses not to move forward with criminal charges.

Out of the GSUPD sexual misconduct police reports from last year, eight reported rape or sexual assault.

Two of the cases were found to be “unfounded,” one was “inactive” and five were “exceptionally cleared.”

“The reason we exceptionally clear them, as opposed to arrest them, because there is an outside means, something outside of law enforcement’s control that says no,” Hickey said.

If the victim declines prosecution or cooperation with law enforcement or if the District Attorney’s office decided not to take a case, it can be exceptionally cleared.

Hickey said he couldn’t remember the specifics of the cases, but the Atlanta DA is usually the judicial body that decides if the case is to be exceptionally cleared. Because of the nature of the crimes, further information about the case may or may not be released, according to Hickey.

“A lot of times that’s what we’ll get; Fulton County will go through our evidence, they’ll see what kind of story we’ve got and they’ll say this isn’t something we can present to the grand jury,” Hickey said.

At the time of this report the Crimes Against Women and Children office of the Atlanta DA and GSUPD were unable to confirm why those five cases of rape were exceptionally cleared.

‘The feeling that no one will believe them’

“Reporting rape takes courage, support, and the willingness to go public with a very private experience.  This is not always the best choice for everyone,” Lee-Barber said.

The U.S. Department of Justice said rape was the most underreported crime of all time, according to their estimates.

Many women do not report their rape to the police, but some do reach out for help.

Lee-Barber said students visit the counseling center for a number of reasons, including depression, anxiety and sexual assault.

When Lee-Barber was asked about the frequency students visit the counseling center for sexual assault, her response was “weekly.”

“One trend is that students who are raped sometimes fear reporting it because of the feeling that no one will believe them or that they did something to cause it,” Lee-Barber said.

According to the FBI only eight percent of reported rape cases are false.

“Rape victims who come forward incur real and unique costs,” stated W. David Allen in his study on rape reports published by The Southern Economic Journal. “They lose their anonymity, risk retribution by the offender and stigmatization by people they know, and often must participate in an arduous, sometimes openly hostile, legal process.”

Allen stated that there was a utility received by the victim for reporting, but it depended on the amount of information the victim could give and the resources a justice system could offer.

“The reporting process itself can be daunting and can expose the student to having to re-tell her story and having it questioned by her attacker as he defends himself.  In the process, sometimes the defense is to attempt to destroy the character of the victim.  Some people choose not to go through this,” Lee-Barber said.

The decision to report is the only choice victims might feel they have.

“One important thing to remember is that choice is key.  When someone is raped, she, or he, loses choice about a very basic thing, bodily integrity.  Every single way that a person can regain the power to choose is important and healing.”

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