Let’s end victim-blaming in cases of sexual assault

By Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Last Sunday, The New York Times ran a front-page story on the experience of a student (who agreed to be identified by her first name, Anna) at an East Coast college. Anna allegedly endured a criminal sexual assault by male students.

After reporting the violent attack, she endured a second nightmare during what her lawyer refers to as an appalling mishandling of her case by Hobart and William Smith colleges. The young woman has bravely come forward to tell her story in the national media even though she has received threats, harassment and shunning since reporting the alleged assault. I join with the American Associa-tion of University Women (AAUW) in urging us all to change the American culture of victim-blaming in cases of sexual violence.

A 2007 campus sexual assault study by Department of Justice found that around one in five college women are targets of attempted or completed sexual assault. In addition, one in 16 college men are targets of sexual assault. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that college-aged women are four times more likely than any other age group to face sexual assault. According to the Department of Justice study, less than 5 percent of rapes and attempted rapes of college students are reported to campus authorities or law enforcement.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was signed in 2013. The law includes a section addressing sexual vio-lence on campus — specifically sexual assault, domestic vio-lence, dating violence and stalking. As universities do their part to address sexual violence on campus, the community can help, too, by starting conver-sations to end the culture of victim-blaming.

The threats and harassment many assault victims receive after coming forward are fueled by rampant victim-blaming by people (including in the media) who worry disproportionately about the effect the legal penalty will have on the perpetrator rather than being concerned about the lasting impact on the survivor’s life.

Sexual violence and the cover-up of such crimes is a gross human rights violation. Kansas has already made significant strides by joining 20 other states in passing legislation to elimin-ate the statute of limitations on rape cases. Women like Anna deserve a fair legal process resulting in justice. A fair process cannot exist so long as Americans engage in victim-blaming. We can do better as a community and as a nation. To learn about preventing sexual violence on campuses, visit aauw.org.

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