Adria Kelly- Sullenger--Sexual Assault and the University

Adria Kelly-Sullenger
April 8, 2014
Sexual Assault & the American University System – Approaches & Reactions
How many people do you think you walk by in a day? It doesn’t even have to
be a large number to relate to the current statistic of sexual assault survivors. All it
takes is three women.1 Out of that group chances are at least one of them has been
sexually assaulted in her lifetime. For men that number is doubled to one in every
six.2 If you’re on a college campus one in every five of the women you see has been
sexually abused while in university.3 Is that more then you thought? The statistic on
the number of victims of sexual violence has been recorded for years and at this
point in time, rape has become a norm in American society. There is even a term for
it: Rape Culture. This horrific crime occurs every two minutes in the United States
and until very recently there were little to no movements to address it.4 It seems as
though rape has become too taboo to discuss and this socially-mandated silence is
causing a ripple of ignorance and an unfortunate stagnancy in the support for the
victims or the prevention of the crimes.
There is an alarming amount of sexual assaults that occur on college
campuses, and the naiveté of the faculty and lack of support for survivors at these
institutions is a serious problem. Four years ago Angie Epifano, a freshman at
Amherst College, was raped in a dorm room and attempted to report the crime to
Ramanathan, Kumar. "World Health Organization: Violence Against Women Is An ‘Epidemic’
Global Health Problem." ThinkProgress RSS. World Health Organization, 20 June 2013. Web.
2 Hopper, Jim, Ph.D. "Sexual Abuse of Males: Statistics, Possible Lasting Effects, and Resources."
N.p., 28 Mar. 2012. Web.
3 Kessler, Glenn. "One in Five Women in College Sexually Assaulted: The Source of This Statistic."
The Washington Post, 01 May 2014. Web.
4 "How Often Does Sexual Assault Occur?" Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. N.p., n.d.
the university. The response she received was atrocious; they told her she could not
move dorm buildings. This, along with the sexual assault counselor asking her “are
you sure it was rape?…. you should forgive and forget.” She was even sent to a
psychological health ward in the local hospital. Her rapist graduated with honors
while Epifano dropped out due to the stresses of being on a campus that refused to
support her. 5
Sadly, Epifanos’ story is not unique. At universities across the country,
students attempt to report sexual assault with little response or none at all. Even
colleges that have support programs in place cannot regulate all of the sex-related
crimes related to campus. University of Massachusetts is one of these, according to
Senior Annie Khan. During her freshman year she was brought to a fraternity house,
where 55 percent of college gang rapes occur, and was sexually assaulted multiple
times throughout the night.6 This was only two months after the beginning of the
school year and for Khan college was suddenly terrifying. She immediately told a
friend of the experience and was guided to the Center for Women and Community.
The support she received there was per her words “the only reason why” she
“returned to UMass for the spring semester.” In the center she could go to weekly
sessions with a therapist and was given a form to report her rapists to both the
university and the police department.7 Khan states, “even though there was
tremendous support…it shouldn’t have happened in the first place.” And that seems
Epifano, Angie. "An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College." The Amherst Student, 17 Oct.
2012. Web.
O'Sullivan, C. "Acquaintance Gang Rape on Campus." In A. Parrot and L. Bechhofer (eds.)
Acquantaince Rape: The Hidden Crime. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1991.
"UMass Amherst Everywoman's Center." Center for Women and Community. University of
Massachusetts, Amherst, n.d. Web.
to be the root of the problem. Colleges work to support the survivors but there
aren’t enough programs in place for rape prevention. This has been the new goal
universities have been striving for in the last few years . The University of
Massachusetts Amherst launched their advertisement campaign for “active
bystander intervention” this year, and many look at the program with hope that
intervening at parties will soon become the next “designated driver” of sorts .8 New
York Times writer Mike Winerip believes the campaign “has great potential”
because “it’s not based on idealism, it’s based on protecting a friend.”
In writing a piece on the programs implemented at universities to prevent
rape and to address the culture surrounding it, witness accounts would be my
primary approach taken. Since there are so many varying experiences each survivor
had with their schools, this would be an impactful way to add a personable side to a
difficult story. The next, and most vital, goal is to illuminate the issue of how victims
are consequently treated by their peers. This is closely linked to the definition of
“rape culture” in which the survivor is blamed in some manner for the rape
occurring. Some of more common inquiries made to the survivors of rape or sexual
assault are the infamous “what were you wearing?” and “how much did you drink?”
The more often the survivors are given the blame, the worse the problem gets. It
makes it so that rape is no longer the focal point, and people begin concentrating on
the issue of binge drinking or, even more ridiculously, inappropriate or bold
Rivais, Larry. "UMass Amherst Launches Second Phase of UMatter at UMass Initiative to Build
Community, Prevent Sexual Assault." University of Massachusetts, Amherst, 22 Jan. 2014. Web.
clothing. This was shown when writer Emily Yoffe posted the article “College
Women: Stop Getting Drunk.” Simply titled, the article states that if women in
college stopped drinking then they would stop being raped.9 This is a widespread
belief; that if there was less drinking in college life then there would be lower
numbers of sexual assault. While this may be true, under no circumstances is the
victim of rape responsible for the occurrence of the crime.
In the last few months, our Federal government has taken huge steps
towards retrofitting the social welfare programs at universities to ensure the safety
and support of all students. One of the most public measures taken was a list posted
by the U.S. Department of Education. It was comprised of the names of 55 colleges
that are to be investigated for their methods of dealing with sexual assault . All of the
institutions on the list have a reason to be there, even the ones that agreed to the
inspection. The University of Massachusetts Amherst made it on the list with nearby
Amherst College, Occidental and Dartmouth being a few of the other names. They
are being examined to see if they are in compliance with Title IX, which forbids any
discrimination based on sex in federally funded institutions .10 Maya Rissoli, an
intern for the Department of Education, says “the last few weeks have been super
hectic” and that she “can’t wait to finally start revealing some of the greasy actions
colleges have been taking.” Rissoli isn’t the only person excited for there to finally be
Yoffe, Emily. "The Best Rape Prevention: Tell College Women to Stop Getting So Wasted." Slate
Magazine, 13 Oct. 2013. Web.
10 "U.S. Department of Education Releases List of Higher Education Institutions with Open Title IX
Sexual Violence Investigations." U.S. Department of Education. N.p., 1 May 2014. Web.
a program illuminating the wrong-doings of these campuses. The U.S. Department of
Education announced the list the day after Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM)
ended. This month was a push for awareness about sexual assault and most of the
marketing for it was online.11 Twitter handles #RapeCultureIsWhen and
#TrackingAssault were two of the more popular of that time period.
#RapeCultureIsWhen encourages people to describe what they think rape culture is
and what they want to change about it. 12 #TrackingAssault was started by Al
Jazeera America and created a forum for people to report who assaulted them,
including where and when it happened so there would be a list compiled.13 Forums
like this are going to be vital in the future because it gives the survivors a voice in a
public forum.
With the focus on universities, much of the piece written would be about the
relationship between the faculty and students. The investigation of this is vital to the
success of these support programs because the more invested the staff is, the more
successful the programs will be. To proceed, I would interview the Chancellors of a
few of the colleges on the Department of Educations’ list to see what their responses
were and to request an explanation of their plan of action for preventing future
sexual assault on their campus. I would also talk to parents and see how comfortable
they are with sending their children away from home to university when there is
such high risk for sexual assault and what they think the schools should do to lower
"Sexual Assault Awareness Month." Sexual Assault Awareness Month. National Sexual Violence
Resource Center (NSVRC), n.d. Web.
12 "#RapeCultureIsWhen." Twitter. N.p., n.d. Web.
13 Khan, Azmat. "Help Us Track Sexual Assault." America Tonight. Al Jazeera America, 1 Apr. 2014.
the risk. The last group I would talk to is different groups of students. The accounts
told to me by the few I interviewed were astonishing and their voices would give a
power to the story that could not be found anywhere else.
With sexual assault being such a major social issue there needs to be a push
by the media to advocate awareness and instigate change. Without a couple of
powerful and revealing pieces, which have existed in the past but didn’t get enough
readership to wake people up from the “rape culture” mindset, society will continue
to function as is. It is unacceptable for 33% of the U.S. population falling victim to
sexual assault without anything being done about it. 14 This is especially true in
universities, where we send the minds of our future to grow and be shaped. Do we
want our future leaders scarred by sexual assault, when steps could have been taken
to prevent it? The kind of country we live in is one of freedom; lets take the steps to
make it one of public safety too.
Ramanathan, Kumar. "World Health Organization: Violence Against Women Is An ‘Epidemic’
Global Health Problem." ThinkProgress RSS. World Health Organization, 20 June 2013. Web.