Why is sexual assault so under-reported?

Editor’s note: The Texan News Service has collected all reports of sexual violence reported to the Tarleton Police Department through the Texas Public Information Act. Our hope is to shed some light on this topic, and to help raise awareness for, and the prevention and reporting of sexual violence in the future. For the purposes of anonymity, all of the women have been assigned pseudonyms by the police. The pseudonyms used in the reports will be the same pseudonyms used in this article.

By Megan Kramer –

In 2012, a woman was so racked with guilt about being raped she couldn’t bring herself to give up the rapist’s name. In 2011, the Stephenville police discouraged a woman from reporting that she had been raped. In that same year, Tarleton police continually asked another woman to incriminate someone of attempted rape even though she could never confidently pick out her attacker.

These stories from current and former Tarleton students paint the picture of one sad fact— sexual assault is one of the most rampant crimes across college campuses all over the United States, yet it is the most under-reported.

Police discount statistics and say they take all crimes, especially crimes against persons, seriously.

Each case of rape or sexual assault is different, but alarming statistics are prevalent no matter what the circumstances. (see infographic)

Is it any wonder victims are hesitant to report these violent crimes, or press charges against their attackers?

“It’s very unique to the individual. People don’t report for all kinds of reasons,” Stephanie Robertson, director of Student Counseling at Tarleton, said. “It could be that they feel guilty about what happened, it could be … victim blaming culture, they feel like it’s going to tarnish a reputation. Someone may not forgive them, [or] it might not be worth the trouble. We hear all kinds of reasons.”

On Feb. 12, 2012, Tarleton student “Mary SL” reported being raped by a male from her floor in Centennial Hall. According to the police report, she had known him prior to the attack, and did not give up his name to the police.

Texan News Service did an interview with “Mary SL” about her attack.

“The reason I didn’t was because I knowingly went over there to hang out with him, and given my situation with him, I shouldn’t have ever even put myself in a situation where that should happen,” she said. “I didn’t want it to turn into a big thing, because I still feel like it was my fault.”

According to Robertson, it is not uncommon for victims of sexual crimes to feel guilty or accept responsibility for the action.

“Not speaking directly for Tarleton students, but in general across the country, there’s sort of a culture of victim blaming in the United States,” Robertson said. “So women tend to accept some of the blame themselves.”

The Texan News Service conducted an interview with another victim that was attacked in April 2011.

The former Tarleton student was drinking with a friend at his off-campus residence when she passed out. She woke up to him raping her. Once she was able to get back to campus, she asked a couple of friends from her apartment building to take her to the Stephenville hospital.

Texan News Service

However, she said the hospital “couldn’t do anything” for her.

She then traveled to a Fort Worth hospital, where she received proper medical attention. The next day, her parents came to town and went with her to the Stephenville police where she spoke to a male detective.

He said her case was not the first of its kind to be reported in the last 24 hours, and it was up to her if she wanted to go through with it.

“He told me it would take one to two years for my case to go to trial, and that I would be made to look like the bad guy, because I was a cheerleader on campus,” she said. “Because of what I have to wear and how I dress, it would be considered provocative.”

The detective also told her that the city of Stephenville/the community as a whole does not convict sexual crimes. In the end, she and her family decided not to press charges.

“As a mother I felt as though my hands were tied, because I was being told by a cop that nothing would happen,” her mother said.

“My dad wanted justice, but my mom did not want me to have to go through all that,” she said, regarding trial and “basically being called a whore” by the defense.

Chief of Police Pat Bridges disputed that the detective discouraged her, and said he only spoke with them at length and answered their questions.

“I don’t see any evidence that he discouraged her from following through with the report,” Bridges said. “We take these types of crimes very seriously.”

Her experience is another prime example of the victim-blaming culture Robertson spoke of.

“People say things like, ‘well if she wasn’t wearing that short skirt’ or ‘if she hadn’t been drinking then she wouldn’t have been in this situation’ or you know, really looking at a lot of the context that surrounds it, and not the event itself. So there’s a pretty pervasive culture of victim blaming in the United States,” Robertson said.

In February 2011, another female Tarleton student was assaulted in a stairwell near the parking garage at Bosque Crossing apartments, according to an interview with the victim.

She was leaving a friend’s apartment around 1 a.m. and was met by an unknown black male as she entered the stairwell. He grabbed her arm and threw her down, then proceeded to pull down his pants. She was able to kick him away and flee to her car, where she locked the doors and immediately contacted a friend.

She later reported the attempted rape to campus police. They interviewed her for over a month and a half, bringing her in multiple times to look at photographs. The pictures were always of various black male athletes at Tarleton. The police said they were working with outside sources, but never disclosed who these sources were. She said it struck her odd that they kept pushing for her to choose a suspect from the photographs, when she repeatedly told them she was not sure if her attacker was among them. She refused to incriminate someone without being 100 percent certain it was the right man.

Eventually the police stopped calling her in, and the whole situation dissipated.

Chief of Police Justin Williams said no one brought this case to his attention, but the treatment of photo lineups has changed.

“There’s specific ways according to legislative law that we’re supposed to show photo lineups, and it’s no longer putting together a group spread, it’s individual photos,” Williams said.

Detective Kristie Bint said many women do not press charges from sexual assault because of the lengthy process of prosecution. It can be seen through these personal testimonies that sometimes even the process of reporting sexual crimes can be long and conflicted, and victims face more adversity without the guarantee of justice.

According to RAINN, about 95 percent of sexual assault convictions are obtained by way of a plea agreement. Plea agreements (also known as plea bargains) require the defendant to plead guilty in order to receive some kind of concession from the prosecutor. This could mean the defendant pleads guilty to a less serious charge in return for the dismissal of other charges, or pleads guilty to the original charge in return for a more lenient sentence. Therefore, those charged with sexual assault could very well plea down to something minor and/or not even sexual in nature.

According to police reports, on Jan. 30, 2010, Centennial Hall resident “Kendall DRN” was at Fort Worth’s Harris-Methodist Hospital in an emergency room when Tarleton Police Officer Ross Harris responded to a call reporting a possible sexual assault. Harris reported that Kendall said she was at an off-campus party.

After Kendall left the party she went to Traditions Hall with friends. A friend of Kendall’s said she could stay with her instead of going back to her room.

While at Traditions, Kendall and her friend came in contact with Fabian Wilson, a then Tarleton basketball player. According to police reports, Wilson was trying to flirt with Kendall. During this interaction, Kendall’s friend told Wilson to leave her alone because Kendall was extremely intoxicated.

According to reports, Kendall eventually went to her friend’s room. When she woke up she realized her friend was gone and went to look for her. Knowing that her friend was an acquaintance of Wilson’s, Kendall went to look for her there.

While in Wilson’s room, Kendall said she was talking with Wilson until she passed out in a chair. The next thing she remembered was waking up on Wilson’s bed with Wilson on top of her. Scared and frozen, Kendall stated in her report that she was too afraid to move or speak while Wilson sexually assaulted her, as she drifted in and out of consciousness.

Kendall told Harris that when Wilson was done, he pulled her pants back up, buttoned them and called one of her friends to come get her out of his room.

Once she was back in her room, Kendall told her friends she had been sexually assaulted by Wilson, and they took her to the emergency room, records show.

According to a written statement by Detective Sergeant Jonathan Hutson, when Wilson spoke to police there were many inconsistencies in his story, including the length of time he spent with Kendall and whether or not he had any sexual contact with her.

The case was brought before the Erath County District Attorney’s office and Wilson was indicted on a charge of sexual assault. Wilson eventually pled guilty to unlawful restraint after the case of sexual assault was dismissed.

Wilson received five years of deferred adjudication probation; his record does not reflect a criminal charge.

Texan News Service attempted to contact Wilson’s attorney, Robert Glasgow, but a call to his office was not returned.

Statistically, with over 6,000 female students enrolled at Tarleton as of the spring 2013 semester, there could have been over 1,000 victims of rape or attempted rape on campus during that time., according to One in Four U.S.A.  Yet no one indicted of sexual assault against a Tarleton student has been sent to prison.

“Statistics are statistics, when you’re talking about crimes that are under-reported it’s very difficult to determine exactly what the true number of offenses are,” Williams said.

Janice Horak, spokeswoman for Tarleton, said there hasn’t been anyone convicted of sexual assault or rape “to her personal knowledge.”

“To my knowledge I do not know of [a Tarleton student] that has been convicted of a sexual assault and sent to prison,” Williams said.

Additional reporting by Breezey Clark, Monét Gerald, Houston Hall, Nathan Henderson, Mark Mallory, Caleb McCaig, Trevor Peele, McCoy Renfro, Ian Troub, Kiley Widmann and Alyssa Winn

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