Three rapes have been reported on or near Cal State Fullerton in the past year, but none has led to an arrest because survivors either didn’t know the attacker or chose not to pursue legal action.
The survivors in these cases were in the minority, as most college aged victims don’t report sexual assault to any authority.
Only 20 percent of college student sexual assaults were reported to police or any type of legal authority for a variety of reasons, according to a 2014 special report by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In sexual assault cases, the survivors are usually the central piece of evidence in the prosecution, according to Alissa Ackerman, PhD, a criminal justice professor at CSUF.
“Sex crimes are really difficult to prove in court, because typically the only evidence you have is the testimony of the victim, and the testimony of the perpetrator.” Ackerman said. “Oftentimes people wait a long time to report, so any physical evidence that there would be is long gone.”
“All those proceedings and investigations can be pretty rough on a victim,” said Mindy Mechanic, a psychology professor at CSUF. “A lot of victims don’t really want to open themselves up to it, they don’t always necessarily believe there will be a fair and just outcome.”
One reason that many survivors don’t report the crime is that they have their own preconceived idea of what sexual assault looks like, according to Mechanic.
“If you asked what people think of with sexual assault or rape their definition usually involves a stranger who climbs in a bedroom window with a ski mask on and subdues an innocent victim.” Mechanic said. “If a sexual assault doesn’t look like the scary guy with a ski mask, it’s not always obvious to the person what just happened.”
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in over 80 percent of sexual assault cases the survivor knows their attacker.
“When sex assault happens in the context of these other preexisting relationships, they can become very confusing for people.” Mechanic said. “It could be a date, it could be a spouse, it could be a partner, it could be a coworker, a boss, a friend, or someone you just met at an event or party.”
Another issue that comes with knowing the perpetrator is the confusion accompanying the situation. “Once you call it in your mind that it’s a sex assault, that’s a game changer.” Mechanic said. “Then you have to see that person differently, you have to contemplate making a formal report, you have to contemplate maybe the ending of a relationship you cared about.”
However the repercussions of not seeking any professional help after a sexual assault could lead to further complications down the road. (Need to reword in SE)
“One of the first things is that a person has to regain their sense of safety and their sense of trust. People can develop mental health problems like PTSD, anxiety, depression,” said Mechanic. “When people don’t get help and heal from those distressing conditions, they can end up self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, or even sex, and that can create a whole host of secondary problems.”
Mechanic also made clear that it was important to “separate healing from the criminal justice system,” due to the fact that an investigation or prosecution isn’t the right choice for everybody.
“Healing is going to take place outside of any role that a formal adjudication could have.” Mechanic said. “It’s different for different people.”
For those who aren’t interested in reporting to the police, other on campus options include speaking to confidential advocates at the WoMen’s Center, who are able to provide information and advice on how to proceed.
“Talk to somebody. Talk to somebody who’s confidential, unless you want to share your story with somebody else or report it, that’s up to you. It’s important to find your own power and voice what you feel you need to voice.” said Rosalina Camacho, Coordinator of the Women and Gender Initiatives at the WoMen’s Center.
“It’s a really sensitive topic, and if someone trusts you enough to tell you, believe them. Believe them, because they’re not lying to you,” Ackerman said.