As the #MeToo or #TimesUp movements continue to bear down on the media world, so too are they bringing to bear lingering issues of unreported or underreported sexual crimes on college campuses.
In 2016, the Clery crime statistics for the University of Nevada, Reno’s main campus — the sum total of all reports made to UNR’s police services — showed a total of just two rape-related cases for a campus with a population of over 20,000 students. In addition, the Title IX office counted around 42 individuals that sought resources for sexual assault or misconduct that occurred either on or off campus in the past year.
But according to a web-based assessment from 2016, the Sexual Conduct & Campus Safety Survey, of the 6,439 degree-seeking students that participated, eight percent or 516 individuals identified as victims of physical sexual assault or rape. Of those cases, only nine percent actually reported their case to a university official or office.
The report notes a majority of these cases are not reported due to feelings of shame, wanting to forget these experiences or feeling responsible for the assault inflicted upon them.
One UNR alum, Haley, recounts being sexually assaulted and possibly drugged at a party in August of 2016.
“I don’t know exactly what happened, but I woke up and I was in a lot of pain,” Haley said. “I had bruises on my thighs, I had a bite mark on my shoulder and I knew I obviously had sex that night and I felt very, very, violated.”
Despite being 21 at the time, Haley decided to not report her case in fear of not being taken seriously because of the involvement of alcohol and placing the blame of the assault on herself.
“I didn’t want to necessarily call it rape or sexual assault because what if I was drunk?” Haley said. “What if I did come on to him?”
The report shows 65 percent of victims indicated that alcohol was involved prior to the assault, and approximately 80 percent of those victims self-identified as drunk. Denise Cordova, the Title IX coordinator at UNR, says alcohol-related incidents, underage-drinking or not, are never reported from the Title IX office to police or police services.
“The only time that we ask about drinking is in order to make a decision based on consent,” Cordova said. “Because if they’re incapacitated due to drugs or alcohol, then they’re not able to give consent. […] That’s when the issue of drinking comes into play or the issue of drugs. But it’s all about consent and determining that. Not to judge them or blame them or anything like that.”
Even though Haley says a large part of her regrets not reporting her case, she also had no idea how reporting might negatively affect her life. Now, however, she says she will always encourage a victim of sexual assault to report their case no matter what.
“I want women to understand that there is a toll that it does take on you and some people are stronger than others and they’re able to take that toll,” Haley said. “I want to say I’m one of those women that was able to take the toll on and face it head on, […] but in the end reporting it would be worth it because then you get someone like that off the streets.”
Today, Haley has continued to move forward from her case by focusing on work, family and remembering that what happened in August of 2016 does not represent her.
“I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I don’t let this define me,” Haley said. “I’m not going to let it define me.”
Natalie Sotelo, 25, is a junior at the university and believes that she was drugged in fall of 2011 due to blacking in and out after one shot. “I remember my assaulter making out with me, undressing me, and before I knew it we were on the couch,” Sotelo said. “He was having his way with me while I was in and out of sleep. I woke up on the couch the next morning feeling disgusting, I just wanted to go back to my dorm and shower to get his scent off of me. I was trying to make sense of what had just happened to me. As for me, well that’s how I lost my virginity.”
Sotelo did not report her case because she says she could not fully grasp what had happened to her.
“I tried convincing myself it was a hookup and that I should date my assaulter to feel better about what happened,” Sotelo said. “[…] I didn’t have a rape kit, and there was the whole fear of how my family would react. So I never stepped forward although now, I wish I would’ve.”
After her assault, Sotelo attended counseling services for a semester and returned to her home in Vegas for about three years where she sought further therapy before returning to UNR to complete her degree in spring of 2019.
Data from the campus climate survey show that approximately 49 percent of victims say their assault affected their schoolwork while 27 percent say it affected their desire to stay at UNR.
Mimi Premo, 33, is a UNR alum and remembers being sexually assaulted at a party.
Premo says that her perpetrator insisted on having sex even though Premo said “No,” multiple times. After she was assaulted, Premo believed she was to blame because she had been drinking. It was not until she spoke to her friends about the event that she realized she was sexually assaulted.
“It was a complex of that nobody would believe me and that I was really ashamed of what had happened,” Premo said.
Premo too never reported her case but strongly encourages other victims of sexual assault to come forward.
“It affects your life in so many ways,” Premo said. “You can’t take back what happened but what you can do is make it so perhaps that perpetrator cannot victimize again.”
According to the climate survey, around 86 percent of victims knew their perpetrator. When the #MeToo movement surfaced, Premo was encouraged to share her story and remembers reading a quote that strongly resonated with her.
“If you say no, whether you’re drinking or have not been drinking, or whether you said yes yesterday if you say no and the other person doesn’t respect that, no that’s rape and that’s assault,” the quote said. “That’s not okay and that’s not your fault.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, female college students ages 18 to 24 are three times more likely than women in general to experience sexual violence. Of the 516 individuals recorded by the climate survey that claimed to be sexually assaulted, 87 percent of the victims were female and 13 percent were male.
Stephen Zipkin, 19, is a freshman at the university and experienced sexual misconduct twice by another male in his residence hall. They pulled on his nipple piercings, calling him derogatory phrases such as whore and slut. The same perpetrator later choked Zipkin in a non-sexual context which urged him to press charges and request a no-contact directive. Zipkin says that it took him two months of continued issues before coming forward.
“I talked to Title IX, Campus PD and residential life and they guided me through the process of getting a campus-wide no-contact directive and pressing formal charges,” Zipkin said. “Title IX was very comforting and offered me every option to resolve the issue that they had, so I would say they handled it well.”
Zipkin says that he understands that many people are victims of sexual misconduct but from first-hand experience, the issue has brought to light gender differences and the way they are handled.
“I feel that as a man I have had more an advantage than a disadvantage in dealing with it,” Zipkin said. “I have to recognize, now that I am more a part of the conversation on sexual misconduct than ever before, that I still don’t have to fear it. It happens to men, but it happens several times more to women. […] I have seen women protect themselves by giving out fake names, fake numbers, and walking home with their keys between their fingers.”
Title IX strongly encourages victims of sexual assault to seek resources whether they choose to report their case or not.
“Our officers who are interviewing victims of crime or victims of sexual assault are going to believe,” said Todd Renwick, Assistant Chief of University Police Services. “They’re going to assure them that they’re, as a victim, driving the bus meaning that we’re just going to be passengers on your bus and help drive you to a successful resolution in this case and hopefully get justice for them.”
Cameo Flores, 21, is a senior at the university who was sexually assaulted last fall by a male who forced her to have intercourse and removed his condom without her knowledge, a process also known as stealthing.
Cameo reported her assault because she was aware that her perpetrator was treating other girls the same way he treated her.
“This had to be documented because I did not want any other girl to have to deal with him,” Flores said. “I think it’s important for us to report sexual assault as soon as it happens so we can take care of ourselves. Get the proper treatments we need, get it written down before time changes details, and most importantly, protect yourself and others from it happening again.”
After reporting her case, Flores sought resources from Title IX and commends them for their support.
“They gave me many resources to check out and utilize, offered emotional support, various therapy group meeting times, and used careful and comforting language,” Flores said. “I don’t know what I would have done in school without their help.”
Flores has since taken legal action against her perpetrator and they were served a no-contact directive. About a month ago, another student filed a case against the same perpetrator and a current investigation is underway to remove him from the university.
If you are a victim of sexual assault and would like to seek resources or report your case, please contact the EO/TIX Office at (775) 784-1547 or the Sexual Assault/Sexual Misconduct hotline at (775) 784-1030. The University will take the steps needed to provide interim measures and resources to assist students in an effort to end sexual misconduct.
Karolina Rivas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @karolinarrivas.