Some victims may not report sexual assault, harassment

By Hailey Kurth

May it be a pat or pinch of someone’s behind, or a display of demeaning or sexual materials, sexual harassment can happen anywhere.

Andrea Drott, interpersonal violence health educator at health enhancement, said sexual harassment is considered anything that is unwanted or makes a person feel uncomfortable regarding their sex or sexuality.

“What makes one person uncomfortable may be different than what makes another person uncomfortable, so it really is on a case-by-case basis,” Drott said.

NIU police sergeant Alan Smith said he doesn’t have an exact number of sexual harassment reports at NIU, but he thinks many incidents go unreported. Sometimes people don’t understand that what is happening to them is not OK, Drott said. Also, Drott said she thinks there’s a stigma that goes along with reporting any kind of sexual assault or harassment.

“My guess is there’s quite a few college students that have gone through it,” said Amanda Schrems, sexual assault legal and medical advocate at Safe Passage in DeKalb. “They’re just honestly too afraid to report it.”

Schrems said typically, when she and her co-workers receive percentages for things such as sexual harassment reports, they bump it up three to five times to get a more realistic number. At the moment, Schrems said she is working with one person from the community in regard to a sexual harassment situation.

Drott said she believes NIU’s sexual harassment policy is pretty average compared to other universities.

“I would say there are some schools that are a little bit above the curve and there are some schools that are way behind,” Drott said. “I would say we’re pretty average on that list. Our sexual violence policy that just came out is above the curve on a lot of things.”

Smith said at NIU, it’s possible for sexual harassment to happen in an academic setting or a work environment. Smith said in a working environment, harassment could be in the form of trading sexual favors for employment or promotion.

“There’s the kind of sexual harassment that is if you don’t do X, you won’t get an A,” Drott said. “Or your grade is based on performing some sort of sexual favors or something like that.”

James Huizenga, senior communication major and peer educator, said there is a difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment. Sexual assault is an unwanted physical act like rape, Huizenga said. He said sexual harassment is a broader term that could involve unwanted physical contact, but could also involve verbal or visual harassment, too.

“Visual harassment could be something like sending someone a naked picture,” Huizenga said.

Smith said depending on the severity of the situation, the consequences for a sexual harasser can be different. He said cases that occur at the dorms are referred to judicial or student conduct, and work environment cases can be dealt with by human resources. The police can be called for any of the cases.

“A person could end up with anything from a slap on the wrist to being suspended to being removed from employment if it was a faculty or staff person,” Drott said.

Sexual harassment can cause victims to become afraid, Schrems said. She said it can also cause depression, paranoia, anxiety or panic attacks because the victim wants to tell someone, but fears something may happen to them if they do.

“The victim might feel like they might not be believed, especially if the person that’s sexually harassing them is a friend from a group or circle of their close friends, a boss in a workplace, a professor or someone who has some sort of relationship with them,” Schrems said.

Schrems said she encourages all victims and survivors to report every incident to create a paper trail. Smith said even if an incident is not reported, a victim should document every incident, that way there will be a record if it happens again.