BY ALEXA ROGERS, FORMER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Over the past two weeks on George Mason’s campus, two cases of sexual assault have been reported to Mason Police. This isn’t really a breaking news opener; I know you all know this by now and you’re furious. And you’re absolutely right, you should be.
Now, declaring it as an official problem, President Cabrera has commented and pledged that “We will not be bystanders,” towards sexual violence on campus.
Upperclassmen on campus might remember an ABC WJLA story last year that stated the university had 10 reported sexual assaults just in the month of March. Much like these past two timely warnings, people were furious. I obviously was too; I have been a big advocate for sexual assault survivors in these pages and in Richmond since 2014. But I thought about WJLA’s report a little differently.
Has anyone wondered that higher reporting numbers might actually be a good thing? It doesn’t look good for university image, says nothing about the numerous pieces of trash that think committing these crimes is okay, but it actually might mean that we’re moving forward.
In 2013, a freshman at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York was raped by multiple members of the school’s football team, who would be acquitted of their crimes just 12 days after they took place, two weeks into her freshman year. The year before her rape, Hobart and William Smith reported 0 cases of rape on campus. But when the university’s security report came out with 2013’s statistics the following year, there were 11 reported rapes on-campus. The survivor in this case went through unimaginable pain; but she unknowingly started movement on sexual assault reporting at her college.
We at George Mason have begun something similar and in 2016, it starts with these two reports two weeks into the fall semester.
Reporting isn’t easy. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a national anti-sexual violence organization, 80 percent of college aged females that are assaulted chose not report to the police for a number of reasons, including fear of retaliation, emotional distress and absences of trust in the justice system. Survivors have a justified right to want to abstain from reporting. Of the remaining 20 percent of cases that are reported, even fewer cases end with the prosecution of the offender and fewer than that end in jail time. But reporting can also mean that survivors get the physical and emotional help that they need to regain their strength and move on.
I think the most important thing for us to remember as we continue on this fight as a community is that non-reporting doesn’t mean it’s not already happening. We shouldn’t be outraged simply because we’re getting these awful emails on Friday night and Monday morning. If we’re going to work together as a community to end this, we have to be furious and vigilant.
I don’t think we will ever be doing enough to stop this from happening. I’m not quite convinced that sessions on sexual assault prevention and training and the countless resources we have on this campus are going to change someone’s horrible behavior. But, I also don’t have a complete solution.
Something that we’re doing at Mason has been working. Whether it’s early intervention training with freshman on campus to teaching people how to act in these situations to being a more caring and welcoming community, people are becoming more comfortable with getting help. That’s because of “Us,” but “Us” also has a hell of a lot more work to do if we want to see this problem end on our campus. We have to develop an environment that casts out the offenders in favor of believing in and supporting the survivors. We can’t be content with leaving this to angry social media posts or editorials in the newspaper.