Although the public is opening its mind and support to victims of sexual assault, it is a crime that goes largely unreported, a group of panelists said Tuesday evening at Kansas University.
A number of things factor into the reasons why women don't report rape to the police, including shame and guilt, said Barbara Ballard, director of Kansas University's Emily Taylor Women's Resource Center.
Taylor, along with student panelists, talked to a group of about 30 people, predominately female students, in the Big Eight Room of the Kansas Union.
The panel was composed of five Kansas University students who were either rape victims, worked with rape victims or were interested in rape prevention.
The presentation started with opening remarks by Ballard and then a 20-minute film titled "Campus Rape" was shown. The film chronicled four rapes two acquaintance rapes and two stranger rapes. The film, narrated by Corbin Bernsen and Susan Dey, co-stars in the television show "L.A. Law," addressed issues such as sexual assault prevention, attitudes about rape and how to seek help. The film also touched on the legal issues of rape.
TAMMY WILLIS, a Salina senior majoring in communications, said that she thought it was difficult for women to report rape and follow through on pressing charges because the burden of proof falls on the victim's shoulders.
"There's a tendency for the woman to be put on trial," she said.
Another panelist said she thought many attorneys were "set" on concrete evidence and in the case of a rape it is often difficult to obtain that information when the woman and her alleged attacker were alone at the time of the rape.
"It's sad when it comes down to . . . one person's word against another," said Sarah Gard, a Prairie Village junior majoring in Spanish and political science.
Panelist Mike Sullivan said he thought today's judicial system is not prepared to handle sexual assault cases.
"MOST OF THE judges were educated in an era when sexual assault wasn't talked about much," said Sullivan, an Overland Park senior majoring in social welfare and Spanish.
Another panelist, Scott Rutherford, agreed with Sullivan, describing today's judges and jurists as people educated in the "old school."
"The judges and jury are not qualified" or educated about sexual assault, said Rutherford, a Junction City senior majoring in chemistry.
Burdel Welsh of the Kansas University Police Department asked whether any of the panelists had attended a rape trial.
Only one, Sharon Danoff-Burg, a graduate student in psychology, said she had.
Welsh said that since only one-fifth of the panel had gone to a rape trial, the rest may be getting their impression of rape trials from hearsay and inaccurate portrayals on many television shows. He said such portrayals seem to "thrive" on brutalizing the victim on the witness stand.
DANOFF-BURG said the rape trial she attended was worse than any program she had watched on television.
The woman had been badly hurt during the rape and had sufficient evidence to prove the alleged attacker was guilty, but the defense attorney insisted on presenting ideas about what the woman was wearing, insisting that she had wanted to have sex with her alleged attacker, Danoff-Burg said.
The panelists agreed that no matter what course of legal action women take, it is important that women remember to care for themselves.
Danoff-Burg said that when counseling a rape victim, the victim should not be coerced in to pressing charges.
The woman already feels like she has had a lot of power taken away from her and should not be "forced" into anything else she does not want to do, she said.
"It's important not to make that decision for her," she said.