COP CORNER: At VCU, we Start by Believing to empower survivors

Provided by: VCU Police
Provided by: VCU Police
Photo provided by VCU Police

“You tell me it gets better, it gets better in time
You say I’ll pull myself together, pull it together
You’ll be fine
Tell me what the hell do you know
What do you know
Tell me how the hell could you know
How could you know
‘Til it happens to you, you don’t know
How it feels…”

With lyrics from her song “Til It Happens to You,” Lady Gaga’s powerful performance at the 2016 Oscars gave a voice to sexual assault survivors and offered insight into the emotions behind being dismissed, rejected and minimalized.

If you’ve survived a sexual assault, or know a survivor, please know VCU Police Department officers start by believing those who come forward for help.

Unfortunately in today’s world there is still a misconception that the vast majority of reported sexual assaults are false reports. Not at VCU. The fact is only a small fraction of assaults reported anywhere are actually false.

Last year VCU and VCU Police embraced the Start by Believing awareness campaign with other agencies across the City of Richmond. The premise was to encourage people to believe sexual assault survivors when they came forward to discuss their experience. (More than 900 people at VCU signed pledges to Start by Believing.)

Often, survivors will tell a friend, roommate or family member about an assault before telling police. A person’s initial response to the survivor is critical.

If a survivor is met with blame, disbelief, judgement or ridicule, the chances of the person reporting to law enforcement, or the university, may decrease. They may not get the medical attention, counseling and other support services they need to heal and successfully graduate from VCU.

Serial offenders cannot be held accountable if an assault is never reported and they could continue predatory behavior. Even if a survivor decides not to proceed with criminal charges, the offender’s name will still be on law enforcement’s radar.

Should someone close to you disclose an assault, please believe them and encourage them to get help. In addition to speaking to VCU Police officers, survivors can seek help from advocates in The Wellness Resource Center, from counselors at University Counseling Services and from forensic nurses at VCU Health and other area hospitals.

Critics would argue that believing a survivor implies a lack of impartiality by police. However, believing a survivor does not negate the need for an impartial, criminal investigation. Modern investigative techniques call for sexual assaults to be treated as traumatic experiences and
VCU Police officers have adjusted their approach to interviews accordingly.

This year VCU Police is continuing the Start by Believing campaign in April. Throughout next month VCUPD officers and university partners will host events and share resources online, on VCU’s campuses and in the community. Events and other resources will be posted on the VCU Police Facebook and Twitter pages.

Believing survivors is not limited to the awareness month, nor should it be limited to police. Supporting a survivor needs to be a societal norm.

We believe Lady Gaga would agree.

Corey Byers, VCU Police

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