By Marina Liao
The number of reported sex offenses at Stony Brook University increased from five in 2009 to 13 in 2011, according to the Clery Report released by the University Police Department. Although this number has sky rocketed in the last two years, sexual assault is still widely underreported on Stony Brook campus and in colleges across the United States.
“A huge survey conducted by the National Institutes of Justice showed that only 5 percent of the attempted or completed rapes that occur on college campuses are reported,” said Christine Szaraz, Center of Prevention and Outreach counselor at Stony Brook. “Reporting rates for Stony Brook are consistent with these statistics.”
The underreporting of rape in Stony Brook stems from several reasons. One of them concerns where the sexual attack occured — at alcoholic parties on and off campus. Oftentimes victims do not report forced sexual encounters because they do not want to say they were drinking.
“Who wants to discuss information when they’ve been drinking? Attempted rape happens a lot at parties,” said a member of Students Empowered Against Sexual Assault at Stony Brook who wanted to remain anonymous. “I was in Baruch, Kelly [quad] for a dorm party once and I walked in on a guy trying to have sex with an intoxicated girl. I pushed him off her and said something to him.”
In addition, many victims do not report sexual assaults because they know their attacker. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center stated that in eight out of 10 rape cases, the victim knew the perpetrator.
“People do not want to say anything because it is so personal. They also might be embarrassed and afraid that people will blame them for the assault,” said Colleen Darrah, a graduate student studying social work at Stony Brook.
This is a common situation not only on campus, but also in society. The United States Justice Department released statistics that show 51.1 percent of female victims reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8 percent by an acquaintance.
Szaraz also said that in her course of work, underreporting contributes to the way people do not want to be labeled.
“They won’t necessarily identify (to themselves or to others) as a ‘victim’ of assault or rape,” she said in an email, “but may then go on to describe experiences that reflect the very definition of these crimes.”
While there is a general sentiment across campus as to why sexual assault is underreported, Stony Brook is making strides to overcome this barrier and shift the focus to speaking out against this type of abuse.
Throughout the academic year, CPO creates presentations like the Vagina Monologues and holds a Take a Stand/Walk with Me with SEASA to educate students about sexual violence. The walk, which will take place at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 17 at the Sac Plaza, will involve a performance from Swallow This! and information sessions with the Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk and the Suffolk County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
CPO also holds workshops and training sessions for the public on topics such as healthy relationships and relationship violence in order to show that abuse of any kind is not tolerated in anyone’s life in or outside of the college community.
“We work to create programs and events that reinforce a sense of bystander responsibility,” Szaraz said, “the idea that we look out for each other and take steps where we can to help prevent or improve a situation.”