Numbers can lie

There is an uncomfortable truth about sexual assault, both on college campuses and in the community at large: the numbers lie.

While the two reports of assault near the Little Mac bridge have been recanted, that does not mean that the Grand Valley State University community should turn a blind eye to the realities of sexual assault in college, or that sexual assault does not happen.

Although the Grand Valley Police Department only reports four forcible sexual assaults at GVSU between 2008 and 2010, those numbers don’t tell the full story. Many victims of sexual assault never report the rape to police, a finding confirmed by the myGVSU Campus Climate survey, the results of which were released earlier this year. In the survey, 154 students, mostly undergraduate women, reported being sexually assaulted while at GVSU. The majority never reported the assault to police or a counselor.

It also does not mean that falsified reports of sexual assault of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault are frequent — according to the FBI, these false accounts only make up 8 percent of all reports.

Being aware of your surroundings and being careful in under-lit, underpopulated areas is not a bad idea, but most sexual assaults aren’t the result of the boogeyman hiding in the bushes, waiting to pounce. According to One in Four USA, a sexual assault awareness organization, between 62 and 84 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows. Of these, 57 percent happen on dates and for male and female victims, the majority of acquaintance rapes happen after the victim had been drinking or taking drugs.

There is no one kind of rape victim. Victims can be male or female, young or old, white or minority, Republican or Democrat. The best thing that we as a campus can do to prevent or limit sexual assault is to be aware. Be aware of the person heading upstairs at a party who doesn’t look sober enough to consent to sex. Be aware of the suspicious sounds coming from a neighbor’s dorm room or apartment. Be aware of any situation that doesn’t feel right to you, and when in doubt, trust your instincts. Call the police. Knock on the door. Stop the person if you can. Whatever action you take, don’t just be a bystander.

It isn’t enough for people to simply watch out for themselves — we have to watch out for each other.