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The number of sexual assaults reported to the VCU police department has quadrupled in just the past year, which VCU officials say is a good sign for the future of preventing the crime.
The 2014 Campus Safety Report shows that only eight sexual assaults were reported to the VCU police during the academic year. Corey Byers, a VCU PD spokesperson, said this year there have been 31 reports.
Tammi Slovinsky, assistant director of sexual assault at VCU, said the increase is due to a changing culture surrounding sexual assault. She said people feel more comfortable with coming forward, and feel like they have more support once they do.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it used to be hard to talk to people about what I do,” Slovinsky said. “But I can talk to my hairdresser about it now.”
She said that even things like the Rolling Stone article on campus rape, which was eventually found to be untrue, can help because they continue the conversation.
Even as more survivors come forward, the number of those who choose to press charges remain a small portion. Of the 31 people who have come forward at VCU this year there are 11 cases actively pending. Six cases have resulted in arrests or warrants.
Tricia Mozingo, the victim witness officer at VCU, said the PD never tries to persuade people to file charges, but even filing a report can help follow potential attackers. She said it will allow law enforcement to see the potential attacker’s name on file and know the person has a history.
Mozingo said more people pressing charges could help dissuade people from committing sexual assault, however.
“I think it aids the perpetrator in committing future offences because they don’t get caught, they don’t get held accountable,” she said.
But Byers said that sexual assault is different than other crimes. It’s hard for a victim of sexual assault to dig up the assault through the process of a criminal proceeding.
“They are not going to be coerced into going ahead with criminal charges if they don’t feel comfortable doing that,” Byers said.
Since the criminal justice system is currently limited in what it can do in regard to stopping sexual assault, Slovinsky said that education is an important aspect in stopping the crime.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness month and VCU held a number of events to support victims.
One of these events was a campaign called “Start by Believing.”
“The campaign has a simple message that if a survivor comes to you, believe them,” Slovinsky said.
Byers said that more than 800 people have signed a pledge to believe a sexual assault victim if they ever come forward.
Mozingo said that if a someone is skeptical when a victim discloses their attack then it can derail them from pursuing help, let alone a report or criminal charges.
“The first person they disclose to sets the tone for what they have to say,” Mozingo said.
Slovinsky said that the myths surrounding rape culture — like “it’s the victims fault,”
“don’t walk home alone at night” and “it’s always a stranger” — can make people skeptical of a true story.
“People will say ‘well, your story sounds different’ and convince the victim it wasn’t assault,” Slovinsky said.
Those who want to take the pledge can do so on April 27 at a “Start by Believing” info table in the Commons between noon and 2 p.m.
While the education on sexual assault has approved over the year at the level of higher education, Slovinsky said that it has to improve in earlier educational settings as well.
A sexual assault task force appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe set earlier education of sexual assault as one of their recommendations.
Slovinsky said her 9-year-old daughter knows the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, what stalking is and said that children can handle the information and need the information.
Slovinsky is optomistic about the future and ending sexual assult, she said that as we continue to become less oppressive as a culture and continue to educate it will lead to more respect.
“People usually target people who are part of a margininalized community, so one day if we’re all equl and respected I believe it will not be the problem that it is now,” she said. “We might have a few stragglers, but if we’re all looking out for each other and looking out for those behaviors and we hold people accountable, I think it will diminish greatly, if not go away.”