Pathway to Prosperity

7 Compelling Reasons Why Campus Rape Victims Don’t Report Their Attacks

by Sam James

Those who deny the frequency and severity of sexual assault on college campuses demand to know why women delay reporting their assaults, or choose not to report at all? Wouldn’t the victim of a violent crime wish to exact justice at any price? Why would a “real” victim not go straight to the police or call 911, rather than spending weeks or months before tentatively approaching the college dean in charge of adjudicating sexual misconduct cases?

The rape apologists smell a lying rat, and she’s not in a frat.

Rolling Stone’s article on an alleged gang rape at UVA is a useful case study in determining how a woman could be violently raped and respond by sneaking back into her dorm room, closing the door, and staying there for the better part of a semester.

1. Victims correctly believe they will not be taken seriously by campus officials.

Very few complaints make it to the hearing process. According to Dean Nicole Eramo, who heads UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, 38 students came to her office last year to report having been sexually assaulted. Of those, 29 took no further action. Five pursued an informal hearing, which is simply a meeting for the survivor to look an attacker in the eyes and state his wrongdoing. Only four pursued formal hearings, the outcomes of which are unavailable to the public.

When UVA gang rape victim Jackie attempted to find out how the hearings had gone for previous accusers, she hit a wall of secrecy and asked Dean Eramo why statistics were not available.

She says Eramo answered wryly, “Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”

Alarmingly, no effort was made to warn students about alleged activities taking place at that frat house, nor were the frat’s activities and practices investigated.

Last spring Stacy, another UVA freshman, wanted to press forward with a formal investigation after being digitally penetrated while vomiting up whiskey. She went to the Sexual Misconduct Board, where they discouraged her.

My counselors, members of the Dean of Students office, everyone said the trial process would be way too hard on me,” says Stacy. “They were like, ‘You need to focus on your healing.’


2. Privileged males in frats are most frequently implicated, but they also receive the most protection from the school.

Attorney Wendy Murphy, who has filed Title IX complaints and lawsuits against schools including UVA, argues that in matters of sexual violence, Ivy League and Division I schools’ fixation with prestige is their downfall.

“These schools love to pretend they protect the children as if they were their own, but that’s not true: They’re interested in money,” Murphy says.

“In these situations, the one who gets the most protection is either a wealthy kid, a legacy kid or an athlete. The more privileged he is, the more likely the woman has to die before he’s held accountable.”

(Murphy may be referring to lacrosse player George Huguely, who murdered his girlfriend at UVA in 2010.)

Many of these men proudly boast of their history of sexual assault.

Lisak’s 2002 groundbreaking study of more than 1,800 college men found that roughly nine out of 10 rapes are committed by serial offenders, who are responsible for an astonishing average of six rapes each. None of the offenders in Lisak’s study had ever been reported.

Lisak’s findings upended general presumptions about campus sexual assault: It implied that most incidents are not bumbling, he-said-she-said miscommunications, but rather deliberate crimes by serial sex offenders.

3. Sanctions range from nonexistent to mild.

UVA has a strict honor code that requires expulsion for a single episode of lying, cheating or stealing. They are extremely proud of this legacy from their founder “TJ” (Thomas Jefferson). When I toured the campus with each of my kids during the college admissions process a few years ago, this policy was touted enthusiastically during the information session. It’s a key part of UVA’s identity.

Since 1998, there have been 183 expulsions at UVA for honor code violations, yet no student has ever been expelled from UVA for rape. Incredibly, this includes several instances where the perpetrator has confessed to the attack!

Eramo explains this policy in two ways:

  1. The preponderance of evidence standard should require milder sanctions. Eramo claims that if a board is only 51% sure that an assault took place, the sanction should reflect that.
  2. A student’s admitting assault shows remorse and a commitment to not repeat the behavior, which should count heavily in the perpetrator’s favor and mitigate consequences.

Local news station WUVA conducted an interview with Eramo back in October before the Rolling Stone article came out. 

This means that victims will have to see their rapists around campus or even in class.

Two weeks after Jackie’s rape, she ran into Drew during her lifeguard shift at the UVA pool. “Hey, Jackie,” Drew said, startling her. “Are you ignoring me?” She’d switched her shift in the hopes of never seeing him again. Since the Phi Kappa Psi party, she’d barely left her dorm room, fearful of glimpsing one of her attackers. Jackie stared at Drew, unable to speak. “I wanted to thank you for the other night,” Drew said. “I had a great time.”

When Stacy learned that her attacker had raped two other women, she was assured by the Sexual Misconduct Board at UVA that multiple victims of the same perpetrator would guarantee expulsion. After she and two other women all testified about their attacks, he was let off the hook. She was informed that each victim would have to bring their own formal complaint in order for their testimony to “count.”

4. The youngest, least experienced freshmen girls are targeted.

Hostile, predatory males carefully select naive girls.

In his study, Lisak’s subjects described the ways in which they used the camouflage of college as fruitful rape-hunting grounds. They told Lisak they target freshmen for being the most naïve and the least-experienced drinkers.

One offender described how his party-hearty friends would help incapacitate his victims: “We always had some kind of punch. . . . We’d make it with a real sweet juice. It was really powerful stuff. The girls wouldn’t know what hit them.”

UVA President Teresa Sullivan has stated that while alcohol does not cause rape, it is a favored tool of rapists. Research confirms that claim:

The empirical results support an “alcohol increases potential victims vulnerability” hypothesis. In the context of the economic theory of crime, this lowers the expected cost of rape to potential offenders and raises rape rates.

These girls are also the most likely to blame themselves as having misunderstood, or done something out of “newbie ignorance” that led to the assault.  Yet Jackie was not a random at a frat party drinking too much. She was there on a date for a formal frat function after being asked by a lifeguard she worked with. Still, she blamed herself:

Jackie was constantly on the edge of panic, plagued by flashbacks – and disgusted by her own naiveté. She obsessed over what easy prey she’d been, as the attention-starved freshman who for weeks drank up Drew’s flirtations.

“I still grapple with ‘Did I do something that could have been construed as that’s what I wanted?’ ” she says.

Jackie still has not formally complained, and still blames herself:

“Everything bad in my life now is built around that one bad decision that I made,” she says. “All because I went to that stupid party.”

Her attackers have graduated, though her date from that fateful night recently remarked to her that she looked like she’d put on some weight.

5. Law enforcement is not particularly interested in prosecuting campus assault cases.

The UVA freshman who was actively discouraged from prosecuting her assault last spring within UVA also notified the police. However, the Charlottesville DA’s office was not interested in filing charges, despite the fact that two other women had been raped by the same guy.

Eramo says that the school generally sits back and waits while local law enforcement authorities decide whether to act. Since they rarely do act, considerable time often elapses, during which the victim must see or even attend classes with her attacker while her complaint is pending.

6. Reporting assault turns girls into social pariahs.

Frats are the source of all of the parties and most of the booze available on any college campus. Newly arrived freshman girls are besieged with invitations to parties welcoming new students.

(Newly arrived freshmen boys find it much more difficult to get in. One young man told me that when he tried to get into a frat party as a freshmen, the frat guy guarding the door got up in his face and screamed, “No dicks!”)

Jackie was actively discouraged from filing a complaint by the friends she was with that night. The two guys hoped to pledge frats, and were concerned about being associated with a girl who had been victimized. (But not concerned about becoming a brother to her 7 rapists.) The girl was similarly worried about being socially ostracized if a fuss was made.

Though Jackie’s identity has been kept secret, word got around last spring that she and another assault victim had gone to Dean Eramo.

But payback for being so public on a campus accustomed to silence was swift. This past spring, in separate incidents, both Emily Renda and Jackie were harassed outside bars on the Corner by men who recognized them from presentations and called them “cunt” and “feminazi bitch.” One flung a bottle at Jackie that broke on the side of her face, leaving a blood-red bruise around her eye.

Jackie expected Eramo to respond with horror and disgust, but she didn’t have much to say about the incident. Despite the now numerous gang rape accusations against the same fraternity, Eramo still didn’t feel that an investigation was warranted.

7. Reporting a rape is very costly.

Being a rape victim is very costly to the victim. From Tyler Cowan’s economics blog Marginal Revolution:

Being the victim of sexual assault is expensive; each incident imposes an external cost of over $100k on the victim. However, recent estimates of the total social cost are an order of magnitude larger suggesting that from a social welfare standpoint rape is likely to be underreported if the victim’s demand for reporting is price elastic.

Rape costs include the following:

  • Property loss
  • Claim processing
  • Medical care
  • Mental health treatment
  • Productivity losses with resulting income loss

From Rape as an Economic Crime: The Impact of Sexual Violence on Survivors’ Employment and Economic Well Being:

The findings suggest that sexual assault and the related trauma response can disrupt survivors’ employment in several ways, including time off, diminished performance, job loss, and inability to work.

By disrupting income or reducing earning power, all of these employment consequences have implications for survivors’ economic well-being in the months or years following the assault.

In addition, I argue that for many survivors, these employment consequences compound one another and ultimately shift survivors’ long-term economic trajectories.

A second estimate of rape costs may be found here.

While it is true that the rape triggers these costs, victims perceive (often correctly) that reporting and prosecuting a sexual assault will drag out the process and become all-encompassing. This is a commonly cited reason for declining formal investigation. Victims are eager to get on with their lives as best they can. As you can see from Jackie’s experience at UVA, that’s not necessarily a valid assumption.


President Sullivan has formally requested an investigation into the gang rape by the Charlottesville DA. She has also put all campus frats on suspension until January, a largely symbolic gesture during the holiday break.

Campuses throughout the U.S. are wrestling with implementing new, more effective policies. No doubt there will be a period of trial and error as they figure out which policies work and which are ineffective.

We should expect better training to prevent attacks, greater support services for victims, and quick action when complaints are filed. Still needed are concrete policies to:

  • Shut down the plying of grain alcohol “punch,” as well as rape drugs, to unsuspecting and inexperienced freshmen.
  • Compel the involvement of local law enforcement.
  • Remove sexual predators from campus permanently by expelling rapists and ignoring pleas of wealthy parents.

Remember, 90% of campus rapes are NOT of the “he said/she said” variety.

The young man who brought Jackie into a room to be raped by his “brothers” and then thanked her for a good time two weeks later is frightening but hardly uncommon. Men just like him lurk on every campus, are proud of their behavior, and have been well insulated from consequences in the past.

Jackie, Stacy and the other women speaking out are performing a great service to their communities and to all students. They have compelling reasons for staying silent, but they selflessly speak out for the benefit of others. I hope that in this way they will find some peace.

I beg you. Heaven forbid, if you are assaulted, call 911 immediately. Let the police find you on the third floor of a frat house, wrapped in a bloody sheet as the party rages. You can’t make the assault go away by running away from it, and your best hope of justice is to treat it as the serious crime it is from the start. It’s also the best way to shut down the campus rape factory.