The Office of the Dean of Students efforts to expand how victims can report sexual assault is an important and laudable step toward combatting sexual violence at UNC.
The new method — report collection through boxes in bathrooms — is particularly useful because the method of reporting is both non-invasive and entirely within the control of the victim.
The percentage of assaults that go unreported is oft-repeated but nonetheless alarming: National averages indicate that, in proportion to our student body, about 500 sexual assaults likely occurred here last year. Yet much fewer were reported to law enforcement or the University — only 30 were reported to the Office of the Dean of Students.
Sexual assault is harder to address than other crimes given how rarely it is reported. This problem is often compounded by confusion on the victim’s part about whether or not what happened was, in fact, rape.
Because of this murkiness, any information that can be collected should be, by whatever means are most effective.
Bathroom boxes allow victims to complete the reports whenever they choose in a private yet familiar location. Furthermore, victims share as many or as few details about the incident as they want.
Most importantly, they also have the option of anonymity. If nothing else, these boxes offer a small way for victims of sexual assault to address what happened to them by putting it on paper and thus begin the process of coping.
Finally, no legal or disciplinary action can be taken against the alleged offender without the consent of the accuser, ruling out the possibility that people will abuse the anonymity of the new method.
This combination of privacy, comfort and control is conducive to sharing information, and in the case of sexual assault, information is power. The Dean of Students will now be able to get both a better picture of the frequency of incidents as well as valuable details about the crime, and the attacker’s methods. All of this will contribute to the ultimate purpose of preventing sexual violence through education, support, and awareness.