The blame game

Written by | December 1, 2011

Sexual assault on campus brings sad realities about rape to light

On Saturday, Nov. 5, campus security arrested two men after they were found sexually assaulting a woman on Southwest 10th Avenue and Market Street on the PSU campus.

The perpetrators, Leslie Lee Thornton Jr. and Timothy Nathaniel Hogue, were arrested in the early hours of the morning and subsequently charged with sexual assault. Thornton was charged with rape, sodomy and sex abuse, and Hogue was charged with rape in the first degree.

But at their court date, both Hogue and Thornton were dismissed of all charges. Why? Because the alleged victim failed to show up and testify before a grand jury.

While this practice is common in the U.S. because of our country’s justice system, it doesn’t excuse the fact that a woman was sexually assaulted. The people responsible for this crime should be punished.

In accordance with U.S. law, the decision to dismiss the charges against the accused rests with the district attorney. While this may be a logically sound decision—the victim did not show up for her court date after all—it is not an ethically sound decision.

Often times, when a young man or woman (though statistically women are more likely to be the victims of sexual assault than men) comes forward to say they have been sexually assaulted, they are criticized by others for either “asking for it” or for not coming forward sooner. This often leads to emotional and mental instability including but not limited to depression, denial, suppression, dissociation and, in some cases, suicide.

According to a study done by the Medical University of South Carolina, 31 percent of all rape victims participating in the study developed post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lifetime. More than one in 10 rape victims is still currently suffering from PTSD.

The same study stated that 30 percent of rape victims experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime after the sexual assault. It was also found that 21 percent of these people are still experiencing said major depressive disorder.

Victim– and slut-shaming are two reasons why sexual assault victims may be hesitant to come forward about the crimes committed against them.

Victim-shaming is the idea that victims of crimes, particularly rape and sexual assault, are abetting or encouraging their own individual victimization rather than fighting the problem head on.

Slut-shaming follows the same idea of victim-shaming, but it is usually propagated by girls against girls. Slut-shaming involves the idea of shaming or attacking an individual for being sexual, whether by their own choice or by circumstances that are out of their control.

With the threats of victim– and slut-shaming, and society’s sometimes bleak look on sexual assault victims, it’s no wonder that some victims are afraid to come forward.

This needs to stop. Women (and men) should not be afraid of being honest about what has happened to them. Our society as a whole needs to become more open about these kinds of things, rather than just sweeping them under the carpet and pretending that rape doesn’t happen or doesn’t exist.

“Statistically, PSU is a pretty safe place, but sexual assault is under-reported like on any other college campus,” said Philip Zerzan, director for the Campus Public Safety Office.

According to a 2005 report released by the National Institute of Justice and the Department of Justice, approximately 35 out of every 1,000 female college students are victims of sexual assault every year. These statistics are unnerving when one realizes that Portland State is home to more than 25,000 students, roughly half of them female.

In order to avoid sexual assault on or off campus, CPSO recommends staying aware of your surroundings, staying in light areas rather than dark and ominous alleyways, avoiding being alone as much as possible and calling the police or CPSO if you see something or feel threatened. Knowing basic self defense and carrying a can of mace wouldn’t hurt either.

Zerzan said that CPSO is collaborating with many different facilities and programs, particularly the Women’s Resource Center, to make PSU’s campus safer for everyone.

“We’re trying to collaborate with everyone to have a dog in this particular fight,” said Zerzan.

It is great to know that CPSO is working hard to not only protect PSU students but others who find themselves on the PSU campus as well. Campus safety is important, but what needs to happen next is the creation of an environment where a victim feels like they can come forward (or appear in a court of law) and be honest about what has happened to them. This needs to be possible without fear of judgment from peers and strangers alike.

College is a supposed to be a great experience, both academically and socially, but for that to happen, students need to know they are safe on any college campus. PSU is doing a great job thus far, but more needs to be done in order to make campus safer.

PSU would do well in supplying everyone, not just those willing to go to the Women’s Resource Center, with information on what exactly constitutes as sexual assault as well as the basic rules of consent. Helping students stay informed and feel safe and providing an environment where people can feel comfortable talking about sexual assault are the keys in ending sexual violence.

After all, no one should be afraid of walking around at night.

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