In the shadows: sexual assault at Geneseo

[Editor's note: due to privacy concerns, students' names have been changed.]

It's Saturday night and you're out with a few of your friends. You're not sure where you'll end up, but you're in good hands, so you're not worried. But what if these alleged good hands become the very danger you can't escape?

For many students attending college, the idea of being the victim of sexual assault lurks in the deepest crevices of their minds. However, this experience occurs more frequently than students realize, with many victims often acquainted with their assaulters.

"The night I was assaulted, I was out with my friends drinking at a party. The [assaulter] was there, too," said Jessica, a student at Geneseo who was attacked by an acquaintance last year. "At the end of the night, I was really sick, and he was the only one I could get a hold of to help me home. I wasn't really functioning at all and was in and out of consciousness. Eventually, I passed out and I'm not even really sure what happened. But, I knew that something bad did happen."

Jessica's ordeal is similar to many other victims of sexual assault. According to statistics from the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, at least one in four college women are victims of sexual assault, roughly 80 percent of which are acquainted with their assaulters.

"Acquaintance assaults and rapes are often unreported, but they are much more likely to occur in college," said Dr. Beth Cholette, clinical director for counseling services at Lauderdale Center for Student Health and Counseling. "This is not something we see a lot in Geneseo because victims usually don't report it right away. Often, we have cases where victims are confessing and dealing with it a lot later on because, at first, they're often not sure if they were actually assaulted."

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey, sexual assault is among the top unreported crimes in America, with more than half of the assaults going unreported annually. Males, who account for 10 percent of all victims, are the least likely to report the crime. Statistics also show that 50 percent of reported sexual assaults involved alcohol use.

"I didn't report my assault until a week later," said Jessica, who went to the village police since her assault occurred off campus. "I didn't go to the hospital or anything like that, which I know now was a big mistake."

"I didn't know what I was doing," she said. "I didn't think much would happen. But, going to the police was the best decision I made…They pushed for action and actually believed me, which meant a lot."

Another student, Emily, was assaulted just before the start of the fall 2007 semester. She chose not to report her incident but did receive medical treatment from Dansville's Nicholas H. Noyes Memorial Hospital.

"I got drunk with my best friend and we went out to the bar," Emily said. "I don't remember anything from the night. I don't even remember meeting this guy. The only thing I could remember when I woke up the next morning was a figure being on top of me at some point and it was terrifying. I didn't even know what he looked like until my friend pointed him out to me later on."

According to Geneseo Village Police Chief Eric Osganian and University Police Assistant Chief Scott Kenney, published statistics regarding this crime correspond with their experiences. On average, the village police receive about a dozen sexual assault reports a year, while UP handles slightly less than a dozen cases a year.

"We know there's a lot more out there, we just don't know who to talk to," Osganian said. "Victims are better off reporting the incident, or least letting us look into it because once time goes by, it does put a lot more burden on the victim."

Both Jessica and Emily said that they knew quite a few women who had been assaulted and/or raped during their college years. Emily said her sister, a Geneseo alumna, was raped in college, and she said at least 10 other girls whom she is friends with have experienced similar situations.

According to Cholette, students can report assaults and rapes to Dean of Students Leonard Sancilio, who can then take legal and judicial action. Students who have been assaulted off campus can report the incident to the local village police. The Lauderdale Health Center also offers counseling services in addition to the 24-hour Livingston County Rape Crisis Service hotline and rape crisis counselor located in the Holcomb Building.

In addition to these services, Geneseo will hold its first annual Sexual Assault Awareness Week, scheduled to take place April 28 to May 2. Organized by approximately a dozen students, the week features a number of events intended to promote dialogue and foster support for victims within the campus community.

Emily expressed her concern that the issue isn't really addressed at Geneseo.

"I feel like people don't understand the prevalence of sexual crimes on this campus and I feel like the campus doesn't really do anything about it, like they just push it aside and pretend it doesn't happen," she said. "I feel like if I tell my story, then people will realize that this is real. It does happen. And, I really want people to be more aware of it."

For more information about counseling services, visit http://www.geneseo.edu/CMS/display.php?page=2977&dpt=health#rape

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