About 1 in 4 undergraduate women are sexual assault victims, new study says

Almost 25 percent of college women “have been victims of rape or attempted rape since the age of 14,” according to a recent Department of Justice study.

Undergraduate college women are more likely to be raped than women of the same age not enrolled in college, according to the study. In addition, college students are most at risk for sexual abuse and rape during the first six weeks of school because they are adjusting to a new environment and are more vulnerable.

 St. Thomas has resources about sexual assault and relationship violence in all public buildings, residence halls and women's restrooms. (Theresa Malloy/TommieMedia)
St. Thomas has resources about sexual assault and relationship violence in all public buildings, residence halls and restrooms. (Theresa Malloy/TommieMedia)

The percentage of college men who are victims of rape or attempted rape is not as high as women.

Only about 5 percent of women report their rape to the police, and even fewer men come forward, according to the study. But two-thirds of victims do tell someone about the incident, whether that person is a friend, counselor or someone else.

According to the St. Thomas Campus Security Act Report published October 1, no sex offenses were reported in 2008 and 2009. In 2007, 6 forcible sex offenses and 2 non-forcible sex offenses were reported. Public Safety Director Michael Barrett said this number does not account for off-campus offenses and unreported offenses.

Reporting is important for healing

Students should report instances of sexual violence, especially for the victim’s healing, said Sister Sharon Howell, assistant dean of students.

“What we’re trying to do first of all is seek safety and healing of the person who has been assaulted,” she said. “We want the person to take care of themselves physically and emotionally and find healing for the experience.”

University response and resources

St. Thomas has a number of different resources available for students who experience sexual abuse or rape. Student Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services are confidential reporting places on campus. Reports can be filed with the Department of Public Safety, Dean of Students Office, Department of Human Resources and the Affirmative Action officer.

The university also trains staff to assist students who have been sexually abused or victims of rape. Howell said training is part of the new-hire and student orientation processes.

“We want to remind our community that we are interested and have an obligation to create a safe environment and remind our students this is a safe place for you if your relationships fail and you need a safe place to go for healing,” Howell said.

Acquaintance rape is most common form of rape

Ninety percent of women who are victims know the perpetrator, according to the Department of Justice study.

“That’s true, that’s true, that’s true,” Public Safety Lieutenant Shannon Hutton said. Hutton worked as a police officer for 31 years. She was a sergeant in the sex crimes unit at the St. Paul Police Department for 13 years and retired from the SPPD after 23 years. Public Safety hired her in July.

For men who take a very intoxicated female home, Hutton said what she tells her sons, “you don’t only harm the female forever. If you don’t respect her, anything you’ve done before and after that you will have a big black mark, and it’ll follow you wherever you go.”

How to stay safe

Hutton said men and women should “trust your gut. … Don’t ever be ashamed and afraid to say ‘no’ loudly, scream and attract attention.” She tells students to always stay in groups and always leave a party with the people you came with.

“Use Public Safety’s escort service and stay with your friends,” she said. “There’s safety in numbers.”

Barrett said sometimes being safe means pulling your friend away “kicking and screaming” from a party where he or she may think they are making a good decision, but it is not safe. It would be better to have her mad at you the next morning than assaulted, he said.

Alcohol is another big issue, Hutton said. It impairs judgment, and consent cannot be given if someone is intoxicated.

“Be mindful of your drink at all times,” Barrett said. “If you think you were drugged, get it checked out immediately.” He said date rape drugs might not appear in the bloodstream after a few hours, and some drugs are undetected by drug tests.

Victims have a 120-hour time period where DNA can still be extracted and a rape kit is used. Hutton advises women to take care of themselves first.

“Please go to the hospital, get yourself checked out,” she said.

Ramsey County and Public Safety are part of the Sexual Offense Services (SOS) program, which involves testing, report, support and prosecution. Women who go to the hospital will be directed to this program. Barrett calls this program and the university’s response a “victim-driven process.”

What to do as a friend

Author Mike Domitrz gave his “Can I Kiss You?” presentation Tuesday, Sept. 21, to first-year students about the difference between being a friend and a bystander. He told students not to be afraid to get involved if they see a bad situation happening.

If something does happen to a friend, listen to him or her. Tell them you appreciate that they shared their story with you, he said. Ask them what you can do to help. He doesn’t call people who have been abused or raped “victims,” but “survivors.”

Hutton also uses this term. If a friend tells you they were assaulted, she said, telling a survivor, “‘I believe you’ is probably the most sincere, forward thing.”

Personal counselor Deb Broderick said it is important for victims to tell someone and for that person to listen.

“Let’s not worry about who did it,” she said. “Let’s talk about what happened, that’s what’s important. Be with that person and help make that decision to seek help.”

Broderick said if you notice your roommate or friend is acting differently, talk to her or him. Victims of sexual assault and rape will have significant behavior changes. It is important for their mental health and well-being to have someone reach out to them.

Counseling and Psychological Services has designated “crisis hours” every weekday morning and afternoon. All personal counselors have experience talking about sex abuse with college students, and it’s a free, confidential resource for students to use.

Public Safety also has personnel in its office 24/7 who are able to talk to victims.

It is natural for victims to be hesitant to talk to someone, and the victim might not be thinking clearly after the incident.

“It’s normal,” Broderick said. “It’s not healthy to push a person, but offer some gentle support.”

Reporting sex abuse

Students can choose to file an informal or formal complaint. The exact guidelines are spelled out in the university’s sexual violence policy. The policy does distinguish that “contacting the police and informing them of an incident is different than filing a charge. Reporting an incident of sexual violence does not mean that the victim must file charges.” Students have up to a year to file complaints at the university.

All bathrooms, public places and residence halls have a purple pamphlet put out by the university called “Sexual Assault & Relationship Violence.” Contact information for off-campus resources is also printed on the brochure and available online.

Theresa Malloy can be reached at mall5754@stthomas.edu.