Professor’s sexual assault study shows low rates of reporting

Lauren Saizan

Two on-campus sexual assaults have been reported to LUPD for the 2014-2015 school year, but research suggests that the real number of on-campus sexual assaults may be higher.

In his study on Loyola and Tulane students, Marcus Kondkar, associate professor and chair of the sociology department, asked both men and women questions about their perceptions of sexual assault, such as their experiences, beliefs, gender dating scripts and what they think is appropriate in certain situations.

He found that only 4 percent of women who experienced an act of sexual coercion legally considered rape in Louisiana reported it to someone empowered to take action.

Kondkar said that a lack of knowledge about resources available on campus creates complications in reporting sexual assaults.

“One of the greatest barriers to reporting is that people have no idea where to go or what to do, and also, more importantly, what will happen when they report,” Kondkar said.

Lieutenant Angela Honora said that the Loyola University Police Department tries to help students as much as possible when they report a sexual assault.

“The only thing we’re learning right now is that all sexual assaults are not reported, but for those that are reported, we assist the student in every way to see if they want to follow the NOPD or if they want the university to handle the disciplinary action among the person that committed the assault,” Honora said.

Kondkar said that for many women, sexual coercion is about a loss of control, and experiencing a further loss of control over how the case will be handled may be a reason why victims are hesitant to report sexual assaults.

“There are all kinds of reasons why they go unreported. The primary reason that seems to crop up over and over again is that the victim feels partially responsible, so there’s a lot of self-blame that happens in these things,” Kondkar said.

Tate Havens-Morris, business management freshman, said that she also recognizes victim-blaming as a factor of why sexual assaults go unreported.

Kondkar said that another reason is that victims want to leave their assault experience in the past or they might not define it as seriously as another person might.  He found that only 20 percent of the students he surveyed who had experienced what is considered rape in Louisiana recognized their experiences as rape.

Kondkar has also found in his research that in terms of precautionary measures, women tend to have a “laundry list” of things that they do to keep themselves safe from interpersonal violence that is simply not a part of men’s consciousness.

“We kind of have this inverse image of reality. Typically, people feel that the greatest risk is somebody jumping out of the bushes on their way to The Boot, as opposed to the more realistic source of the problem, which is probably someone you’re dating, or at least an acquaintance,” Kondkar said.

While Kondkar said the truth is much harder to recognize, he also said that many people are more comfortable with the idea of a pathological stranger harming us than a friend.

Kondkar also said that more sexual assaults happen in places where victims would ordinarily feel safe.

“The places that they do happen at are the places where the victim reports being the safest because there’s no stranger threat. At a party, at a person’s home — these are places where acquaintances come together, not strangers,” Kondkar said.

Among his findings, Kondkar said that relationship instability is also associated with higher risks, as is intoxication.

Honora said that although students may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs when an incident occurred, this does not mean the blame will be placed on them.

“A person that’s under the influence of alcohol or drugs cannot consent to have sex. I try and tell them that as much as possible to make them feel comfortable in reporting it, and I found that last semester we had more students that were willing to talk about things that have happened to them or may have happened to a friend compared to the past,” Honora said.

Kondkar said that because every situation is different, sometimes the cost of reporting a sexual assault far outweighs the benefits of reporting it.

Kondkar said that victims who reported sexual assaults in the past said that they were less likely to report in the future, which suggests that their last report may have discouraged them from reporting again.

“The main thing is for me, as an educator, it’s more important to just make information available to people in a safe place in a safe way, and then not judge people for the decisions they make,” Kondkar said.

Kondkar said that one way to promote awareness of sexual assault is by simply having conversations, by removing the lens of domination associated with sexual assault and by inviting men into the conversation.

In his study, Kondkar found that 84 percent of the students he surveyed said they would report an act of sexual coercion if it happened in the future.

Havens-Morris believes that, beyond raising awareness, sexual assault victims need to be supported.

“To support victims, we need to believe them. It’s plain painful for someone to go through this, so the best thing to do is believe that they’re telling the truth. To prevent it, we need to enforce ‘no means no’ and report the people who commit assaults,” Havens-Morris said.