Why Are Marist Students Not Reporting Their Sexual Assaults?

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“Emma”, a current Marist senior, thought she understood what sexual assault was. But, when she became the victim of it, it was harder for her to recognize.

After drinking at her friend’s fraternity house last spring, a male student with whom she had slept with before invited her up to his room. When she found out that he didn’t have a condom, she turned down his advances. “He was like, ‘this isn’t fair, why are you being like this?’...and then he kept trying and trying and I kinda didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Was it warranted?Was it wanted? No.”

Emma, along with seven other Marist students and survivors of sexual assault- seven female and one male- recently sat down to share their stories. Their real names are not being used to maintain anonymity, so they were given false first names for the purposes of this article.

Of the interviews done at Marist, many stories revealed an issue with consent. 

Danielle, a junior, stressed the fact that getting consent once doesn’t guarantee consent every time. “Saying yes at night isn’t saying yes in the morning,” she said. Danielle was raped by an older Marist student in his room in Lower West Cedar during her freshman spring semester. It occured the morning after they had had consensual sex.

“They say you have a fight or flight, I had neither. I had a freeze. I just panicked....I said ‘please stop, stop’, and I was panicking because I was underneath him,” she said.

Claire, a sophomore, was drinking at a bar that is often frequented by Marist students when she went home with a non-student male last winter. When they got to his Poughkeepsie apartment, she said she started to feel trapped. “He pounced on me, and I was made to do things I didn’t want to do. I said I wanted to leave and tried to put my clothes on, but it still happened. I felt like arguing wasn’t the best way out because I didn’t feel safe. He was obviously aggressive, and I didn’t know where I was,” she said.

Gina, a junior, was researching this past summer at Marist when she went to a party with other students at an off-campus house. That night, she was assaulted by an acquaintance. The next morning, she went to the hospital to get a rape kit done, and reported it to the Marist Title IX office. She worked with the school to carry out an investigation which she said ultimately resulted in disciplinary action against her attacker. “If you truly feel that something was wrong, and that you were violated, you’re the only person that can be the judge of that and you have to be in con- trol of what you feel,” Gina said. Of the Marist students interviewed for this article, very few reported their assault to the school, and only one completed an investigation with the school. 

This suggests that there is a much larger number of sexual assaults at Marist that are unaccounted for because they were never reported. Ed Freer, deputy director of Marist Title IX, says that the number of people who take it past reporting to the school, meaning reporting to police is, “minimal. Most don’t. Last year there was one. Most want the college to handle it, or not do anything....Victims have many reasons that they might not come forward. We have to accept that,” said Freer.

 Ed Freer in his office. Photo by Caroline Withers '18. 

Ed Freer in his office. Photo by Caroline Withers '18. 

Dr. Naomi Ferleger, director of Marist College Counseling Services, believes that students come to school with preconceptions about victims of sexual crimes that can keep them from wanting to report. “There is frequently a worry that they will be blamed. Part of that is that we live in a society where there has been a lot of blaming of the victim, and not believing of the victim,” she said.

Part of the issue also, Ferleger said, is self-blame and embarrassment. “There’s still a certain amount of shame that goes with having been the victim of a sexual assault,” she said. It’s this stigma, and accompanying embarrassment, Dr. Ferleger said, that causes some victims to struggle to even realize that their experience was sexual assault.

Another common reason victims of sexual assault don’t report, Dr. Ferleger said, is that, often, many perpetrators are their friends. The CDC reports that the majority of female rape victims know their attacker, yet rapes committed by acquaintances are half as likely to be reported. “Acquaintance rape brings up so many conflicting feelings. This person has been a friend, how do you put these very contradictory things together. Psychologically, it’s a hard one to get one’s head around,” said Ferleger. Few understood the reporting process altogether which kept them from police and the Title IX office.

If a victim decides to go to police, they are facing the fact that very few rape cases result in consequence for the alleged attacker. While it’s important to remember that these numbers are impacted by infrequent reporting, only nine percent of rapes are prosecuted, and only five percent lead to felony convictions. Just three percent of rapists will spend time in prison, while the rest walk free.

Reporting to Title IX, according to Gina, was just as frustrating. “I wish I’d just gone to the police instead,” she said. She said that she had a rape kit performed at a local hospital the morning after she was raped, then went to report it to the school. She said it took seven months for the investigation to end. “The process was long, and really draining. It’s just a constant reminder of the trauma you’ve already been through,” she said.

She said her rapist faced disciplinary action from the school that didn’t seem severe enough to her. “I felt like he got away with it. It was wrong. I get that it was a mistake, but you face the consequences for mistakes,” she said.

On the reverse side, however, is the sentiment that modern day police and campus security are much better equipped to help victims, and are more likely to believe them.

“Often, there’s more evidence than you think there is. We try to get the truth. We have an obligation to,” Freer said. He listed swipe records, clothing, video, witnesses, and texts as different types of evidence that have been used in school investigations before. He said that there’s less of a burden of proof at the school than in the legal system, but stressed the importance of reporting early. “The sooner the better to report. It makes it more difficult for Title IX because memories of witnesses fade, evidence may be lost,” he said.

Freer said that there are other ways that the Title IX office can help victims, even if they don’t want to begin an investigation. He said that the school can change class schedules, housing assign- ments, or contact professors. Director of Safety and Security John Blaisdell agreed, saying, “I whole-heartedly disagree with students who think reporting is pointless. The time, energy and resources we put into this are enormous.”

Furthermore, most of the students interviewed who did not report their assault expressed some degree of regret with their decision. “My biggest regret is not mentioning it because he hurt other people,” said Jessica, a senior who was sexually assaulted, and later stalked, by a male friend her freshman year. “I still think about how many girls have had to go through this.”

Freer said that the school is devoting more resources to fighting sexual assault: hiring a new full-time staff member for the Title IX office, and starting an advertising campaign around campus to increase awareness of the reporting process. The office also worked with Marist to host a the- atrical show this week called The Script, a one-man show about masculinity and sexual assault.

However, most students interviewed were still concerned about their lack of knowledge on how to report. A quick search for sexual assault resources on the Marist website leads to an unusable page, despite using it under a student login. “I didn’t really know the process, or how to report this kind of thing. I still don’t really,” Emma said.

 The page titled "Sexual Violence Resources" is unavailable. 

The page titled "Sexual Violence Resources" is unavailable. 

Many of the students interviewed had specific suggestions for improvements on campus. Claire brought up more blue lights on campus. Gina suggested mandatory bystander training for all freshmen, a campuswide hotline, and a sexual assault center. “Things could be so much better at this school,” Gina said.

Danielle said that that was one of the most important things that she learned from her experience. “To other Marist students: this does happen. If you see something, say something. Have each other’s backs,” she said.