Victim’s advocates note

In 1997, 14 reports of sexual assaults were filed with the University Police Department, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education report published Sunday. Approximately 165 victims of sexual assault were assisted by the University’s Program Against Sexual Violence in that year, program representatives said.
Victim advocates attribute the low rate of report to a failure in the system rather than a failure of victims.
“When something this horrible happens to you, why should you trust anyone else?” asked Nikki Wright, a victim advocate at the Program Against Sexual Violence. “It’s hard for (victims) to trust police.”
Recent allegations of sexual assault and harassment being covered up by the men’s athletics have further concerned victim advocates.
When the few that do try to get help are hushed up, Wright fears quiet voices will be silenced forever.
“And it hurts,” Wright said. “It really, really hurts when someone doesn’t listen to you. It tears at your soul.”
Listening to those vulnerable voices is what Wright says she does as a victim advocate.
“We show them their options and whichever options they choose, we walk down that path with them,” Wright said.
If victims call the Program Against Sexual Violence within the first 48 hours after an attack, advocates can escort them to hospitals so evidence can be collected in case the victim decides to file charges.
Later, advocates can help victims schedule exams to check for sexually transmitted diseases.
If the victim is in immediate danger from an attacker, advocates will also help the victim file restraining orders.
After the initial shock has worn off, advocates make sure a victim has a support system or access to counseling and begin to discuss the implications of filing police reports.
“A lot (of perpetrators) don’t get charged because the system is very biased against the victim,” said Rebecca Dreke, another victim advocate. “We need to destroy this myth that survivors do this to lie and get attention.”
False reports of sexual assaults are nearly as rare as false reporting of other assaults, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics Web site.
If victims do decide to file charges, advocates will provide moral support, accompanying them when they speak to police and prosecutors if requested.
Victims filing police reports need to know that the investigation will be fair, Wright said. With recent allegations of University Police involvement in protecting student athletes, Dreke said she is no longer sure that is possible.