University not addressing crucial element of sexual assault


The Appalachian Online

Dewey Mullis

The increasing number of reported sexual assaults is dominating discussions on college campuses around the country.

Prevention strategies and how to avoid potentially dangerous situations have been the talking points. But these don’t take the discussion far enough to make a difference at the root of the problem: the offenders.

Most people know the statistics: one in four women and 3 percent of men are sexually assaulted during the course of their college experience.

According to the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, 60 percent of assaults go unreported. From those reported, few lead to an arrest.

But in recent years, college campuses have seen an increase in reporting. This isn’t to suggest that the number of incidences is changing. It reveals an increased awareness of the importance of reporting.

Interventions addressing sexual assault have included learning avoidance of dangerous situations, support groups to address the needs of victims, demonstrations to educate the student body and a panel discussion on men’s role in sexual violence culture.

All of these initiatives have enabled a more open discussion about sexual assault, but fail to address the issue at its core. Strategies to avoid dangerous situations are useful, but they don’t affect those who have culpability.

The individuals who commit or will commit these crimes in the future don’t always hear the message. The next step in furthering the conversation might be to, in some way, bring those responsible into the discussion.

Being reactive to issues is far easier than establishing and enforcing proactive measures. For victims, this can be daunting and intimidating. But victim-offender mediation has been proven effective for both parties – victim and offender.

Offenders, past or to-be, are or will be systematically sanctioned by a system of deprivations that one can evolve to withstand. What they miss is the punishment of reality that comes with hearing the victim speak directly to them – a dose of reality often missing from a system of justice that is neither swift nor certain.

According to a study published by The Prison Journal, offenders that participate in victim-offender mediation programs are less likely to further victimize after incarceration. Even victims that participated in mediation programs showed higher levels of satisfaction following mediation.

This isn’t to say that the offender’s side of the story needs to be heard. The intent is to provide a sense of reality of what the aftermath of sexual violence actually involves.

Revealing statistics are sometimes overlooked. These statistics, according to the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, show that the reality is victims of sexual violence are three times more likely to suffer from depression, 13 times more likely to abuse drugs, 26 times more likely to abuse alcohol, and four times more likely to experience suicidal thoughts or actions.

Furthermore, proactive attempts at prevention are more successful when both victims and offenders have the opportunity to mentor others, according to a study in the Journal of Criminology.

The stage has been set, the numbers are out there, and awareness is on the rise. The discussion must expand to instill the realities of victimization into the public to have a better chance of reaching those who may offend in the future.

Mullis, a senior criminal justice major from Wallburg, is an opinion writer.