One of the most underreported crimes, according to University Police spokesman Michael Klingebiel, is sexual assault and battery.
April is sexual assault awareness month, and the Crisis Center of Tampa and the Florida Department of Health hosted its 4th annual “Take Back the Night” candlelight vigil at the Temple Terrace United Methodist Church on Thursday.
The event allowed the community to come together and support survivors of sexually violent crimes while promoting awareness.
UP Capt. Bob Staehle was one of the speakers in attendance. He discussed training programs for police officers to help handle sexual battery cases in an understanding manner.
“The first five minutes that (the police officers) encounter a rape victim (are) crucial,” Staehle said.
Staehle said former victims of rape helped outline the new program, and their input made all the difference.
According to the national crime victimization survey, in the last five years half of all rapes went unreported.
Most of these crimes go unreported because of the perceived stigma attached to the crime itself and to the victims, Klingebiel said.
“It’s a shame that sometimes victims feel that they brought this upon themselves,” Klingebiel said.
According to Nora Penia, coordinator for USF’s advocacy program, it is difficult to obtain the exact number of rapes that occur on campus because most are not reported.
“There are a lot of reasons why people don’t report sexual battery. It’s a very personal crime, and many times people blame the victims,” Penia said. “So if someone says that they were raped, people start saying, ‘Why did that happen? Was it because of the way that she dresses, or because she drank too much or the friends that she keeps?'”
According to Penia, one of the biggest fears people face about deciding whether to report a rape is what the reactions will be from their families and friends.
“A lot of times they, too, will start with this, ‘Why did this happen?’ which we wouldn’t say if someone got hit by a car, but we do that with rape victims,” Penia said. “I believe the reason is because we have a need to feel safe ourselves, so if we can find a reason why she got raped that doesn’t apply to (us), then (we) can feel safe.”
According to Barbara McCormick, a crisis center social worker, college students need to know the dangers of acquaintances and date rape, since 80 percent of all victims knew their attackers.
“We want to educate young people to be careful of their circumstances and to be aware that sexual assault can and mostly likely occurs from someone you know,” McCormick said.
According to Penia, people feel comfortable around acquaintances and sometimes may let down their guard too soon.
“When you spend time with someone that you meet from a friend or at a party, you feel a little safer … so that trust level goes way up, the rapists take advantage of that trust,” Penia said. “We want to be trusting in our society. We don’t want to walk around being suspicious of everyone, but it’s really important that we have a certain level of guardedness or awareness because these things do happen.”
Klingebiel’s safety advice for students is to let their roommates or friends know where they are going, who they are going with and what time they plan on returning. Students should also be mindful to not leave their drinks unattended while at a club or party.
According to Klingebiel, students should also go out in groups.
According to Penia, because the effects of sexual battery can last a lifetime, it’s important for the victims to be able to talk about what happened to them so they can begin the healing process.