Reporting sexual assault in the year of speaking up

The first few months of 2018 have set the tone for a year characterized by speaking up. Larry Nassar was put behind bars after over 150 survivors of his crimes spoke up, #MeToo and #TimesUp rocked social media, stronger gun legislation is being called for and activism is alive everywhere.

Perhaps 2018 will see an increase in sexual assault and harassment as well. As it stands, it’s estimated that only 1/3 of sexual assaults are reported to police and only 20 percent of college-aged women are likely to report being sexually assaulted, according to RAINN.

Since the fall semester of 2014, Oakland University has seen 11 reported sexual assaults, two of which were classified as rape and several involve attempted rape or sexual activity that was the result of one party being pressured, according to the Oakland University Police Department’s records. The majority are classified as “forcible contact,” which usually involves one party making unwanted advances toward the other. Especially with Oakland’s recent ranking as the second safest school in the United States, assaults don’t appear to be all that common on campus.

But as University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz said in January, “We would never say there are not things happening here.”

When students report a sexual assault on campus, there are a number of ways to have their voices heard. Survivors can go on or off the record and, if on the record, can decide whether or not they want to press charges. OUPD accepts reports over the phone or in person, and every officer is trained in trauma and are comfortable talking to survivors.

“It’s driven by the person that’s reporting,” said OUPD Detective Shona Collins. “It’s how they want things to move forward. The only protocol we have on that is if we write anything up on that case, we have to take it to the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office even if charges aren’t being pressed just so we can keep everything.”

Collins said that although OUPD’s role is to stay objective and find the truth of the matter, the department’s first step is to trust the person reporting and help them feel comfortable talking about whatever happened. Collins says that reporting both helps the survivor and potential future survivors.

“The majority of perpetrators do it again,” she said. “If people don’t report it, the likelihood that they’ll do it to someone else gets higher.”

Survivors are also given access to healthcare resources, counseling and guidance from the Dean of Students. Even if students experienced something off-campus, OUPD is willing to connect students with the correct police department.

“At the very minimum, someone should get counseling,” Collins said. “Eating disorders, alcohol abuse, promiscuous behavior… Some people don’t have trouble, but the majority do. To meet it head on and start working through all of it is the best policy.”

Collins also pointed to additional resources such as OUPD’s Rape Aggression Defense course, HAVEN in Pontiac and the Graham Counseling Center on campus as tools people can use to educate and take precautions to protect themselves.