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Guest Commentary: The real facts about assault

Michael Mandel
By Michael Mandel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 2, 2005
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Scott Patterson came so close to hitting the mark with his Aug. 29 editorial, "Would you feel safe if you had a whistle?"

He starts out strong, but fails to make a rational point when he minimizes the prevalence and impact of sexual assaults. The University of Arizona Police Department statistics he cites for the number of sexual assaults reported each year are definitely low, especially compared with the department's statistics for theft.

The low sexual assault numbers he cites only account for those assaults that happened on campus that were reported to law enforcement. A significant number of UA community members were sexually assaulted off campus, and those assaults are not included in the numbers that were cited.

Many assaults go unreported; this is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice statistic that only 38.5 percent of sexual assaults against people age 12 or older were reported to law enforcement in 2003.

The University of Arizona's Oasis Program for Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence and the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault receive thousands of calls every year from people in this community who are in crisis as a result of being sexually assaulted.

We provide mental health services to hundreds of those rape survivors and their loved ones to help mitigate the long-term trauma of sexual violence. We work independently and collaboratively to prevent the violence from being perpetrated in the first place.

Adding to the complexity of the issue, most young people who experience violence that meets the legal definition of sexual assault never label the experience as such.

They reject the sexual assault label and then wander around for months or years wondering where their trauma symptoms are coming from. They are literally the walking wounded, and few of them are linking the effects with the cause. This raises the second point Patterson missed entirely. Sexual violence can cause profound psychological, physical and emotional trauma that may take years to integrate. Survivors can carry symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, a diagnosis shared by war veterans returning from combat.

These symptoms may include depression, anxiety, anger and flashbacks. This trauma often leads to dropping out, addiction, job loss and the loss of support systems like family and services.

Comparing the trauma of sexual assault to the trauma of robbery is like comparing open-heart surgery to a skinned knee. Even when accounting for the different reporting rates between the two crimes, the life-altering impact of sexual assault is clearly disproportionate to the impact of a robbery.

While theft may involve an invasion of personal space and property, sexual assault is an invasion of the body, the psyche and the spirit.

Even if the statistics only reflected that one person was sexually assaulted, that is still a significant reason to dedicate resources to prevention and intervention. Many of the rape survivors with whom we work would gladly exchange their CD collections if it meant they could get their lives back to the point they were at before they were assaulted.

Theft and other property crimes are of course a concern on any campus and in every community, but minimizing the experiences of rape survivors does a tremendous disservice to those survivors and to future victims.

The campus community deserves to be informed about this silent epidemic and ought to be encouraged to speak up and end that silence.

We agree that the orientation program on crime should be made mandatory again, but that the program must continue to place sexual violence at the top of the syllabus.

Michael Mandel is community projects manager at the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.

Tina Tarin, the Violence Prevention Specialist for the UA's Oasis Program, and Michelle Dorsey, the Psychologist for the UA's Oasis Program contributed to this commentary.

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