Rapes reported on West and Main campuses increased from two in 2016 to six in 2017, but GC officials attribute the spike to better reporting, not necessarily an uptick in sexual assaults.
GC reported six rapes on Oct. 1 in its 2017 Clery Act report. GC Public Safety Chief Don Challis and Sgt. Michael Baker cited multiple factors that may have contributed to increased reporting.
“The party culture could be part of it, the #MeToo movement could be part of it, and it could be people understanding the process does work,” Challis said. “I don’t think we’re in a position based on the small sample size to say in our opinion it is because of this. There’s a lot of factors going on.”
Emily Brookshire, GC’s victim services coordinator at the Women’s Center, said that more than 20 GC students have confidentially reported sexual assault since Aug. 1. Unless the victim requests it, the Women’s Center does not report these confidential allegations to GC Public Safety or Title IX.
“Last year we served around 32 students who came in to discuss sexual assault,” Brookshire said. “Potentially the way things are going, we could very well surpass that number in the first semester of school.”
Sexual assaults reported to the Women’s Center tend to spike at certain times of the year such as the beginning of the year, during October’s domestic violence awareness month and around the time students leave for Winter Break. The days and weeks after homecoming and after spring break also increase.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 20-25 percent of college women and 15 percent of college men are sexually assaulted at some point during their time on campus. More than 90 percent of the victims do not report the rape.
Sgt. Baker attended a presentation put on by the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault and was informed that very few perpetrators are actually convicted of rape.
“It was like 1 percent were actually convicted of rape, and it’s because it’s hard to investigate,” Baker said. “If you actually make an arrest do they always reach a trial? They don’t. They reach a plea agreement or they go down because they’re just very hard cases to prosecute or they’re just exonerated of the charges because there wasn’t enough proof.”
DNA evidence is crucial to solving a rape case. Challis and Baker explained that gathering DNA evidence rules out the defense that the defendant was not on the scene at the time of the crime.
After the DNA proves the defendant’s presence, Challis and Baker said the defense will argue the sexually contact was consensual. Neurological discoveries have mitigated the effectiveness of this defense.
“You’ll hear the defense say: ‘Did you yell? Did you scream? Did you fight back,’” Challis said. “It is a real thing to just lock up. It’s instinctive and a hard-wired mechanism. We’re changing how we talk about the fight or flight system, and now we talk about the third thing. The catatonic paralysis. It’s a real thing. I think we are seeing a shift in how these survivors are getting credible. Only eight out of 100 are made up, which means 92 aren’t, so why would you go through this process.”
After a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, occurs, the brain tries to protect victims by having them forget what happened. GC Public Safety employs new techniques to help victims remember and file an accurate report.
“If you are having a hard time remembering what happened, we might say: ‘Tell me what you smelled, tell me what you saw, and these kinds of other senses,’” Challis said. “Our memories are tied to other things like taste. We want to wait two sleep cycles because things as your brains reset and recharge to help you remember things. We might ask you backwards. There are all kinds of things we are working on to stay current. We’re going to be very good at what we do.”
Another common defense was that the victim’s story was out of order and didn’t seem to make chronological sense. GC Public Safety said that judges are now explaining to jurors that though it is out of order, it is still valid.
“It may seem out of order,” Challis said. “How it can be explained is that you might have this big stack of sticky notes and they’re all in order and they’re all pushed back by the wind. They’re all out of order and you have to work with the survivor to put them back in some kind of order and then correctly you get a pretty good idea of what happened.”
Even if the victim does not want to press charges they are encouraged to get evaluated with a rape kit as soon as possible in case they change their mind in the future. A rape kit is a sexual assault exam that retains DNA evidence.
“It’s important that we understand this is the survivor’s choice,” Challis said. “We wanna make sure they’re safe first and that they may get any counseling they need. That’s our primary goal. But if we have the opportunity to hold somebody accountable we will do that.”
If a student needs help emotionally or physically the Women’s Center is open for them 24/7.
“Students can just walk in,” Brookshire said. “They can definitely call or email and make an appointment, but if a student is in an emergency situation and they need an advocate, and they haven’t been in contact with campus police or anything, they can call our 24/7 crisis line at 478-234-2788.”
The Women’s Center also offers courses to help students become more aware of potentially threatening situations.
Project BRAVE is taught at all freshman orientations, but the center offers a longer, three-hour course for interested students.
Ally trainings, what are these, help recognize signs of domestic abuse that might be more difficult to distinguish. One Love training focuses on relationship violence.
“It’s a national program now that’s really amazing. It’s about de-escalation and how we can work to spot relationship violence and how most of us can quickly turn a blind eye to it,” Brookshire said.
Madison Block, a junior nursing major, took the Project BRAVE training to educate herself on the signs of possible threats of sexual assault.
“I have taken the course on the signs of what to look out for so I can better protect myself if I am ever in an unsafe situation,” Block said. “I feel safer knowing I know the signs of sexual assault and can look for them.”
GC wants to encourage people to come forward and get the help they need.
“I’m here to offer confidential support from anything from physical injury to emotional support to education for as long as you need it,” Brookshire said. “This is something that will impact you for the rest of your life. We’ll work on how we can work to promote healing so that it’s not stopping your life or stopping you in your tracks. We can carry this trauma and grow and continue and feel whole in a different way."