Degree of deception: Investigating sexual assaults on campus

Are colleges mishandling sexual assault reports?

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - A growing number of colleges and universities across the country are coming under fire for mishandling reports of sexual assault.

In the past two years, hundreds of college students have begun speaking out about being raped, assaulted or touched inappropriately.

Federal laws require schools to report sexual assaults, but a KCBD NewsChannel 11 investigation has found some schools using a degree of deception, breaking the law to cover up crime on campus.

Right now, there are open sexual violence investigations at 145 post-secondary institutions.

Four of those are right here in Texas: Cisco Junior College, Texas A&M, Trinity University and The University of Texas Pan-American.

KCBD also requested the number of sexual assaults reported at local colleges and universities.

So far, it looks like all of our local institutions are reporting accurately, but local survivors tell us victims are not reporting to universities, making the numbers incorrect.

"The statistics, yeah, they are definitely not giving an accurate picture of the story," said Jennifer Huemmer.

Huemmer is a doctoral student at Texas Tech University and co-director of the documentary Good Girls Don't Tell.

It's a film about survivors of sexual assault on college campuses. The women she interviewed are students at Texas Tech.

Out of the five women she interviewed for the film, none of them reported.

We asked Huemmer if she would encourage survivors to come forward.

"I don't know. Yeah, that's difficult," she said.

Difficult because Huemmer is a survivor who did not report.

"I wouldn't want to pressure anyone to come forward or say anything that they aren't ready to say," Huemmer said.

"For me, it took years, so I can understand the hesitation there," she said.

"The culture is just not a safe place yet," she said.

"I think there's this idea for people who don't know a lot about the issue that it is very simple. You just go report, people automatically believe you and then investigate to show it's happened. It's almost the exact opposite. People are skeptical about your report even though statistics show that rape is no more falsely reported than any other major felony," said Laura Dunn.

Dunn reported being sexually assaulted as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin Madison in 2004.

"People don't believe you, they criticize you and there's a lot of ostracism about who you are and your capabilities because of what's happened," Dunn said.

Emotions Huemmer said she tried to capture in the film.

"You can kind of see the negotiation process that is going on in these womens' heads as they make sense of this very traumatic experience. What could I have done differently versus knowing that this was not their fault," Huemmer said.

Dunn is now an attorney who runs a non-profit that helps other students who have reported sexual assault.

"Most sexual assaults are happening to freshman girls within their first couple of months on campus. It has nothing to do with the campus as much as it does with society and the fact that on campus there is an opportunity to prey on vulnerable populations," Dunn said.

Huemmer said she was about 20-years-old when she was raped by someone she knew.

"I think that is something the education process needs to account for the fact that we do prepare women to protect themselves against strangers when in reality, it's not strangers. So I think that is an area that is a little lacking," Huemmer said.

"We have such a desire not to address campus sexual violence, to excuse it, to normalize it, to think that acquaintance rape is somehow less damaging to survivors than say a stranger rape and because of that we actively undo investigations. We actively avoid serious prosecutions or hearings on this issue. There are cases I think that would shock this nation if they saw all the details of how it broke down," Dunn said.

Huemmer said the statistics will continue to only tell part of the story as long as culture silences survivors.

"When we aren't hearing their narratives, when we don't actually know what they are going through, it's just easier to lean on wanting to associate mutual responsibility for the situation. we are really trying to break the stigma that this bad thing happened to you, you're going to be judged for it, so stay quiet. We are trying to disrupt that," Huemmer said.

To learn more about the statistics behind sexual assault, and to see the responses we got from our local institutions, click the links below.

PDF: Public Records response from South Plains College

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