Star-Ledger Editorial Board
When a college student is raped, universities often play conflicting roles of cop, counselor, judge and jury — with little incentive to see that real justice is done. As a result, victims too often choose to suffer silently rather than report their attacker.
Those unreported crimes make for an incomplete picture, but the numbers we have are staggering: 1 in 5 female college students will be sexually assaulted, and 88 percent of those attacks will never be reported. That’s a shameful number of victims suffering alone and a frightening number of attackers who will go unpunished.
Advocates for assault victims have been sounding this on-campus alarm for years. Finally, constructive proposals have been put forward in both Washington and Trenton.
Both call for colleges to hire confidential victims’ advocates — a critical service for rape survivors, who can be frightened or overwhelmed. Without such help, many victims choose silence, never reporting the crime and never getting the help needed to heal.
Both measures also seek open reporting of campus rape data. The federal bill calls for a confidential national survey and requires that every university publish its results, as the military does today. That would be a major improvement to the weak reporting requirements in the law now.
The problem with both bills is that they don’t require colleges and universities to inform local prosecutors when a student reports a rape, as Rutgers University does. Some advocates worry that will discourage reporting even further. That is a legitimate concern, but it is outweighed by the need to confront this clear threat to public safety.