As of June 2021, Veronica has not reported her assault to authorities.
After sharing her reported experience on Twitter last summer, Veronica said she began seeking help from local authorities and sexual assault groups to report her experience. To her dismay, she found she could not turn to the University of Georgia Police Department because she said her experience took place off campus. Instead, she would have to report to the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, an entity she was not familiar with because she was a student.
24 out of 25 alleged perpetrators
did not match suspects in police reports for rape or sexual battery from UGAPD and ACCPD
Veronica said because of her lack of knowledge of the system, she never made it to the formal reporting process. Despite getting further than some individuals who shared their experiences, Veronica reflected on the possibility of filing a formal report.
“If I really get down and empty my soul to these people and they treat me in a way that is unkind, and in a way that … makes me feel like my story’s not important or that they don't believe me, it would destroy me,” Veronica said. “I simply could not handle it. And the idea that it’s a possibility, that I don’t know these people, have no idea how they’re going to react, it’s so threatening.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 34% of rape and sexual assault victimizations were reported to the police in 2019. This was the lowest percentage for all violent crimes reported to the police that year.
There are a variety of reasons individuals may choose not to report their assaults to authority figures such as the police, universities and hospitals. Veronica and Linnea Ionno said one of the biggest reasons may be a delay in reporting as individuals process what happened to them. Ionno is the director of adult services at The Cottage, which is a sexual assault center and children’s advocacy center in Athens.
Crystal and Veronica said they did not come to terms with their assaults until much later. Ionno said that even once survivors have processed their assault, they may also take the time to figure out what they want to do — if they want to report or not and if so, to whom.
“Centuries-old institutions repeatedly fail us [survivors and women in general],” Veronica said. “We have systems, legal systems like this university has been — these things have existed for literally centuries. And they fail us.”
She said that one of the fears survivors have is not being believed. While some of the individuals in the movement said they had proof of their assaults, Veronica said many are concerned of not having enough proof for the legal system. With Twitter, that fear was lifted.
There is a significant mistrust toward the police and the university, students and alumni said. This lack of reporting and trust is specifically found in Black communities which are fearful of repercussions and a lack of action from local authorities, they said.
“We do not trust the police, so that’s why our numbers probably don’t look like reality. We don’t report; we don’t even trust hospitals to perform rape kits. So reporting for us, it’s an all-time low,” said Kayla Trawick, a UGA class of 2021 alumna.
Shannon Parker is a sergeant in the special victims unit which oversees sexual assault cases for the ACCPD. He said the police department is aware of the obstacles people of color face with reporting.
“We work with sexual assault centers and child advocacy centers for all of our cases,” Parker said. “So any time our detectives work a case, we always use an advocacy center to reach out to the survivors, and if they’re open to having an advocate available, they can be part of the interview [or] whatever stage of the process we’re in.”
The Red & Black was unable to find up-to-date, comprehensive national and local statistics that looked at how individuals of different demographics report their assaults and if there are any trends to those numbers.
“It's hard to find statistics on BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) survivors and survivors in general because there's a lack of reporting...from survivors and from some police,” Parker said. “Also, there's not enough resources or people who may care to write the cases and testimonies.”
As the protests for racial justice increased last summer, the movements in the streets and online began to call for the protection of Black women specifically, revealing multiple layers of oppression that these women experience.
In addition to experiencing racism, Black women who are sexually assaulted by Black men may feel the need to protect their perpetrator from a system that often disproportionately and unfairly targets Black men, said students and alumni.
“We, as Black women, feel the need to want to protect Black men. I think I saw a victim say that they didn’t want to come forward because they didn’t want to bring another Black man down,” said Sarah Asres, a UGA junior. “That just really tore me apart because she felt like it was more important to protect his image as a Black man than to protect herself as a Black woman.”
Parker said anyone can report to ACCPD’s Human Relations department or himself with complaints or concerns over reporting.
Additionally, Parker said if alcohol, a party setting or drugs are involved, individuals are hesitant to come forward out of shame or fear of being charged. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, this shame or fear may be heightened if individuals choose to consume while underage.
With all of these concerns in mind, there are other reasons that survivors may choose not to report their assault. According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, survivors may fear retaliation from their perpetrators, or they may think the police would not help them. Also, they may have reported their experience to a different authority or felt the experience was a personal matter, in addition to other reasons.
“Our approach is to give control back to the victim,” Parker said. “We allow them to decide how they want to proceed with a case. When someone reports a sexual assault, we utilize the Family Protection Center. This building houses the Special Victims Unit, ACC-SANE and other partner agencies so that the victim/survivor can receive all necessary services in one convenient place.”
Mistrust in hospitals
The other option is to obtain a rape kit or test through a hospital. However, the health care system has a reputation of treating Black women poorly. This reputation and culmination of experiences have resulted in many Black women not being able to trust hospitals when it comes to reporting their assaults.
A 2010 study published in the journal Trauma, Violence & Abuse noted that Black women are less likely to seek help or file reports in the aftermath of a sexual assault than white women. Factors including racism, a lack of support when talking about assault and stereotypes about Black women's sexuality contribute to this divide, according to the article.
“I noticed from research — white women are often more validated in the system. They’re often more believed in this system than BIPOC women are,” said Sachi Shastri, a UGA class of 2020 alumna, an advocate for Project Safe and a former president of UGA’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Program.
Implicit bias by doctors and health care workers have eroded trust from Black individuals, particularly Black women. Examples of this bias include not believing these women with regards to pain tolerance, symptoms and overall experiences. One of the most well-known examples is tennis star Serena Williams, who experienced a pulmonary embolism after giving birth.
Williams, who has a history of pulmonary embolisms, or blood clots in the lungs, told a nurse in the hospital that she needed a CT scan as she thought she was suffering from another clot, according to a 2018 Vogue cover story.
However, Williams said the nurse thought she was confused due to her pain medication. Her experience was covered internationally, bringing attention to the disparities in maternal care for Black women in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared to white women, Black and Indigenous women in the U.S. are two to three times more likely to die from health complications due to pregnancy.
Due to these concerns, Black women do not always feel comfortable reporting their assaults to hospitals or receiving a rape kit from them.
“[Reporting] to the police, to the hospital, it’s all the same,” said Shelmine Armand, a UGA class of 2021 alumna.
UGA reporting authorities
The Red & Black has a record of 29 individuals who were named in the movement in the UGA Twitter community last summer.
In an effort to corroborate the posts on Twitter and see how many of these accused were officially reported, The Red & Black filed records requests with the UGA Police Department and Athens-Clarke County Police Department for any police reports that included these individuals as suspects.
The requests to UGAPD and ACCPD included but were not limited to requests for reports involving rape and sexual battery.
Reporters also filed requests for any investigation summary letters that included the names of the accused from UGA’s Equal Opportunity Office, which handles cases of harassment and discrimination.
The Red & Black did not file records requests for individuals whose last names were not listed in the allegations, who were Athens residents or who did not have a record of being at UGA or being involved in any UGA social media communities.
Of the 25 names submitted to the UGAPD and the ACCPD, UGAPD found one police report that listed an accused as a suspect. However, the individual’s name was too common for The Red & Black to determine whether they were the same person as the one accused on Twitter.
Of the 24 names submitted for EOO finding letters, UGA said there were no records found for 22 individuals. For two of the accused, UGA said they could neither confirm nor deny whether records existed due to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
The results of these requests support the national trend of how underreported sexual assault is. For some of the individuals who tweeted last summer, choosing to report can come down to trusting the university.
“I mean, I’d be open to talking [to UGA] about it [her assault] because these issues are important, but I don’t really trust that they’re going to do anything about it,” Crystal said.
For students, reporting can be inaccessible for multiple reasons, especially if they are unaware of what resources are available or how the process works. UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor listed at least 13 local and national resources, initiatives and programs that address sexual assault in a statement to The Red & Black.
Despite these existing efforts by the university, Erin and Veronica said they were unaware of the available UGA resources. While they knew of UGA’s Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention program, they weren’t sure what the organization could do for them specifically.
Crystal said that if students feel as though RSVP and other resources and their personnel aren’t understanding of an individual’s experiences — especially for Black students — then those resources aren’t accessible.
Furthermore, Veronica said there were steps she needed to take on her own before she could consider going to RSVP. Because her reported experience involved coercion, Veronica said she first had to recognize it as sexual assault. She said it’s a big step for survivors to not only recognize what happened to them, but also label themselves as a survivor — it was as though she was “branding” herself.
By taking this step, Veronica then had to decide what she wanted to do, whether that was seeking help from a support group, reaching out to the police or neither. However, she said each of those decisions required her to make multiple mental decisions all while continuously processing what happened to her.
“You have to reanalyze and relive this horrifying experience,” Veronica said. “No one wants to do that. It’s horrible.”
With RSVP, she said that initially she didn’t see her assault as violence because she wasn’t physically forced into having sex. Instead, she said she was coerced.
Due to this disconnect, she initially wasn’t sure if RSVP could help her. After all of this mental processing, Veronica said she would be open to going to RSVP, but it took time and energy for her to get to this position.
With all of these concerns and historical issues with reporting authorities, many turned to Twitter last June to share their reported experiences with sexual assault. Some say it was for closure or to warn their fellow students of alleged perpetrators. For others like Veronica, it was also about feeling validated.
“To feel believed, the first time, is an insane relief,” Veronica said.
Jacqueline GaNun contributed to fact-checking this series.