Common media perceptions of Orange County evoke images of sandy beaches, beautiful blue oceans, multimillion-dollar estates and Botox beauties cruising around in the latest luxury SUV.
Likewise, the City of Irvine is perceived as the quintessential suburban community of parks, families and conservatism. The same idyllic image may be applied to the lives of college students in the Orange County area, but the harsh reality is that across the nation, college students are in the age group most at risk for sexual assault.
In 1985, Mary Koss published her national study of sexual aggression and victimization among students in higher education in Ms. magazine. Through her surveys, Koss determined that one in four college-aged women is a survivor of rape or attempted rape.
From the sample, 84 percent of women also knew their attacker. Acquaintance rape, often referred to as ‘date rape’ or ‘hidden rape,’ accounts for the majority of cases in which the victim knows her attacker. The offender could be a friend, a boyfriend, a fellow classmate or a neighbor.
Nationally, acquaintance rape accounts for approximately 80 percent of all reported rapes.
Because many victims never tell their closest friends and family members about their rape, it is unrealistic to expect every incident of sexual assault to be reported to police. Recent government estimates suggest that for every rape reported to police, three to 10 more rapes actually occur.
Each January the UC Irvine Police Department publishes the campus crime statistics as mandated by the Jeanne Clery Disclosure Act. The annual report lists the number of ‘reported’ crimes ranging from homicides to burglaries that occurred on campus the previous fiscal year.
Any cases of sexual assault at UCI can be reported to the UCIPD and/or Campus Assault Resources and Education. However, annual statistics gathered from both departments reveal disparate amounts of ‘reported’ sexual assaults between 2003 and 2004.
During that time, only two cases of rape were reported to campus police, with no reports of attempted rape. However, documents obtained from CARE, covering the same time period reveal that 20 cases of sexual assault were reported.
Of those 20 cases reported to CARE, to which students can confidentially report incidents without filing a police report, only three cases obtained an official police report. Fourteen of those 20 cases were classified as acquaintance rape. In regard to location, 17 of the 20 sexual assaults occurred off campus.
From these numbers, the sharp disparity between ‘reported’ cases becomes manifest. If two cases of sexual assault were reported to UCIPD and 20 cases were reported to CARE, one can only speculate as to how many cases were never reported at all.
After reviewing these statistics, many can understand why sexual assault is often referred to as a ‘silent epidemic.’ With only 40 percent of all attacks ever reported in the United States, most voices remain silenced.
According to UCIPD Det. Caroline Alberti, only about ‘5 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police through college campuses.’
Alberto attributes this low incidence of reporting to a combination of reasons.
Embarrassment appears to affect the underreporting; some victims feel responsible for making wrong decisions regarding their personal safety due to their impaired judgment.
It’s no surprise that most assaults on college campuses involve drug or alcohol use. The Bureau of Justice reports that 75 percent of the time, either the offender or the victim has been drinking.
Another common reason attributed to the underreporting of sexual assault is the fear that survivors will, in effect, relinquish their anonymity or confidentiality when dealing with the police department. Some individuals also lack confidence in our nation’s law enforcement in handling cases of sexual assault.
‘Most cases as UCI are considered to be he said, she said,’ Alberti admitted. As a result, many reported cases of sexual assault never enter the legal arena.
Alberti recalls only one case to be accepted by the Orange County District Attorney’s office in UCI’s history, which involved then-UCI student, Brian Dance, in 2001.
According to police reports, Dance had met a 15-year-old girl online and arranged to meet with her at the Block in Orange. Dance, a former criminology, law and society major at UCI, allegedly raped the girl in a UCI parking lot on Dec. 26, 2001.
Dance was later accused of sexual assault, beating the girl with his belt and carving swastikas into her face. He was subsequently convicted of seven felonies and sentenced to 65 years to life in jail in 2003.
That year in 2001, the number of sexual assaults reported to UCIPD peaked at a total of five rapes. Since then, the number of cases recorded from 2002 to 2004 has dropped to one per year.
As a detective, Alberti recognizes that sexual assaults are severely underreported. She and her colleagues would like to see an increase in the amount of reports filed.
‘All we can do is get the word out there,’ Alberti said. ‘We need to emphasize the importance of reporting to help prevent future assaults at UCI.’
Alberti also believes that UCIPD’s relationship with CARE is very important. To help a victim of sexual assault with the healing process, she regularly encourages individuals to seek support from CARE, which can provide individual and group counseling, in addition to many advocacy services.
CARE’s current director, Mandy Mount, Ph.D., began her new position this past September at UCI.
Operating on an annual budget of $8,000 CARE’s financial support from the university remains substantially lower than most campus-wide organizations that serve all 25,000 students at UCI.
CARE’s annual budget includes funding for the organization’s annual events including the Clothesline Project, Denim Day, Take Back the Night and Unspeakable Acts. In addition to their campuswide programs, CARE also sponsors the ‘Right to Know’ peer program which provides peer advocacy and campus education regarding sexual assault.
Each year, the UCIPD does provide campus education for sexual assault prevention with the Rape Aggression Defense program. Still, the program does have its drawbacks. Due to budget constraints, no more than 15 participants can attend the three-part training session at a time. The training sessions are exclusively for women who register online in advance. This year, RAD will be taught once in the spring with two sessions in May and one in June.
Internationally known, the RAD program teaches students methods of empowerment and strength. ‘It also educates participants on options for self-defense,’ Alberti added.
Alberti has received specific training in handling sexual assault cases and believes that the term survivor ‘psychologically supports the individual,’ more so than victim.
”Survivor’ is the preferred term over ‘victim’ because it does not perpetuate the emotional implications of victimization,’ Mount said. ‘The term ‘victim’ implies helplessness.’
Through her efforts, Mount hopes that more and more survivors come forward and seek assistance through the variety of resources available to them.
‘Nobody should have to suffer in silence,’ Mount said. ‘[CARE’s primary responsibility has always been] to provide education for the campus and the UCI community.’
To report any cases of sexual assault at UCI, please contact CARE at (949) 824-7273. All services provided by CARE are free of charge and available to all currently enrolled students.