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Editorial: One in five women in the U.S. are victims of sexual assault or rape

By The Maroon
On April 24, 2014

  • Holly Combs. The Maroon

The room was tense as the The Maroon editorial board decided how to best report the sexual assault of a Tulane student, and the recent arrest of a Loyola student in connection to the case.
Nearly an hour of deliberation and gut-wrenching details from the police report led us to decide to print the name of the student charged and arrested by the New Orleans Police Department Sex Crimes Unit. In "Student faces aggravated rape charge", we identify Loyola Mass Communication Senior Jonathan Cepelak with his arrest for aggravated rape on Friday, March 28. NOPD found enough evidence to arrest and charge Cepelak for the crime.
Note that nearly a week before this story's publication in The Maroon, WWLTV released Cepelak's name. We also want to remind readers that if the crime was of a slightly different nature, such as attempted murder, there would be no hesitation in printing the name of a student charged. Aggravated rape and attempted murder are treated equally in terms of punishment. We would print the name of the accused of an attempted murder charge, how could we reason that it is right to withhold the accused's name in the present case?
Cepelak's charge is of a serious nature as a crime that could result in the death penalty or life in prison, according to Louisiana state law.
Imagine the consequences of witholding the name of George Zimmerman after he was arrested for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The first outcry from the case was not toward reporters for releasing the name of Zimmerman before his trial ruling. The public responded to the life of young Martin and the crime committed against him. Let us also remind you that Zimmerman was found not guilty and still, the immediate backfire was not toward journalists for releasing information about Zimmerman.
While this case was racially charged, keep in mind that the sexual assault and rape of women and the public response to it is charged by gender discrimination. There is no basis for treating these cases differently because doing so perpetuates this prejudice.
By a majority vote we decided to refrain from printing a picture of the accused.
Our reasoning during this discussion was as follows: The Maroon feels that Loyola's small size could lead readers to believe that Cepelak is guilty as charged. While NOPD has found enough reason to arrest Cepelak, his case will be determined in court and not by our newspaper. We believe in reporting the facts and The Maroon is not in any position to judge Cepelak's guilt or innocence.
We recognize that unfortunately victim blaming is an unholy trend in the media. The Maroon, nor any other news organization, has the right to blame the victim for anything that has happened to her just as we cannot persecute the accused. Neither you nor us were there at the time of the incident or were involved, there is no way to justify slants at the victim. It must have taken the unnamed victim an incredible amount of courage for her to report the assault to the police and we fully support her actions and we commend her.
Our desire to maintain journalistic integrity and our mission at The Maroon holds that we want to simultaneously report news objectively yet critically. We honestly feel that the most important part of this case is not the possible perpetrator; it is the victim's story.
In the heat of the debate, we could not relieve our minds of the police report. At one of the most popular bars visited by our students two men reportedly brought a woman in to a closet where they forcibly assaulted her.
We treated this story with empathy for not only the accused but for especially the victim. We cannot even begin to imagine how this woman must be feeling or how her life might have changed since Wednesday, March 19.
A 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study prepared for the U.S. National Institute of Justice concluded from their research that the majority of sexual assaults occurring while women are incapacitated are due to their use of substances, primarily alcohol, and that freshmen and sophomores are at greater risk for victimization than juniors and seniors. The same study also found that more than 35 percent of women victim of sexual assault or rape said that they did not report the incident to police. The likelihood of reporting the assault is even less likely when the victim is familiar with her assailant.
We'd like to take this moment to shed light on the horrors and realities of sexual assault of women in the U.S. One in five women in the U.S. have been victims to sexual assault or rape in their lifetime, according to The White House Council on Women and Girls 2014 report, "Rape and sexual asault: A new call to action."
According to a research report by the U.S. Department of Justice "The Sexual Victimization of College Women," for every 1,000 college women, nearly 40 of those students are victims of sexual assault or rape in a given year. Taking this statistic into account, consider that at a university of approximately 5,000 undergraduates with 58 percent being female students then it is possible that over 100 of those female students fall victim to sexual assault or rape in just one year.
Rape is about power and not pleasure. Rape is about humiliation and not adoration. By shaming those victims who have come forward in the media, the public continues the cycle of power and humiliation that the assailant started.
We call for all students to get educated on the reality of sexual assault on campus. Get educated about what it means to "blame the victim." Encourage anyone you know that has been a victim of sexual assault to report the crime immediately. Show your support of victims of sexual assault and of rape, their strength deserves nothing less than love and understanding during recovery.  


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