Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Not just dealing with the "system" . . . .

There is a link to an example article in the title -- if you want to go there.

One of the problems with helping college students who are raped is that they aren't just reporting one crime, they are taking on a huge system - some times single handedly.

First, most rapes on a college campus involve people who know each other. Also, they quite frequently involved heavy drinking. Add into the mix the circumstances are often not the sort of activities students really relish admitting to their parents -- heavy drinking, partying, sexual games, tiny bits of clothes, hiring of strippers, porn, etc.

Second, when a student reports a rape in college, they have two judicial systems to work with most of the time - the local criminal courts and the campus judicial boards. The goals and operations of the two groups are often exactly opposed to each other, too.

Thirdly, it is nearly impossible to keep the identity of the victim or alleged perpetrator secret in such a small environment. Even when students attend schools that are small towns, this sort of gossip and information spreads quickly. People are quick to make judgements and proclaim those judgements regardless how foolish, flimsy, or ignorant their information or knowledge of the case is. Very often, the logic is something as simple as "gee, that guy sat next to me in stats class two semesters ago, and he never tried to rape me - so she must be lying." I'm not kidding - that is frequently the level of thought that goes into "on the street" judgements. It becomes even more difficult when the accused is someone well known - like a popular fraternity member or athlete.

And, lastly - at least for this post - we are often dealing with people who have self esteem issues or new to adulthood or haven't yet fully formed their values. College students often come to campus with their own childhood abuse, substance abuse, mental health, etc issues. Adding a sexual assault to the mix can sometimes lead to incredible confusion and wavering resolve about pursuing charges.

I haven't yet figured out how exactly to meet all the needs of college student clients. They have so many stresses on them to begin with - they are being asked to navigate through a very complex and sometimes contradictory system, and sometimes can't help but feel as if the whole of the university community, the fraternity system, the athletic department, and/or the whole world is against them at the same time. I'm never surprised when victims want to "stop cooperating" with the justice system. I don't blame them. No matter how often we answer the phone, hold their hands, or reassure them that they are doing the right thing - we can only be next to them - in the end, this is a battle they have to be ready for themselves. And, that's asking the world.

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