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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


    Rape Victims’ Fear Contributes To Secrecy

    Eva Feldman’s daughter waited 72 hours to report to campus police that she had been raped in her dorm room at Indiana University. She waited four more days to tell her parents. “I didn’t want to make daddy cry,” was her daughter’s reason.

    Her behavior is typical of rape victims, who delay reporting their attacks, if they ever do, for many reasons including shame, fear, guilt and a flawed judicial system.

    One in four women become victims of sexual assault during college, and five percent of these victims actually report it. Acquaintance rapes are most common, accounting for over 80 percent of rapes on college campuses.

    “It’s hands down predictable, so it should be preventable,” Feldman said, who started in response to her daughter’s tragedy.

    This trend affects college campuses all over the country, where victims often remain silent about their physical, mental and emotional anguish.

    “Current research on the victimization of college students confirms that rape and sexual harassment continue to be serious problems on campuses,” the 2002 U.S. Department of Justice National Victim Assistance Academy report said.

    In 2005, the U.S Department of Justice examined rape on college campuses and determined that five percent of college women experience a completed or attempted rape each year. In 2006, Stony Brook University had 11,874 female students. That translates to about 594 rape incidents. That year, there were three reported acquaintance rapes, six reports of sexual abuse and zero reported attempted or stranger rapes.

    Feldman blames Indiana University’s administration and campus police for failing to adequately prosecute the man who raped her daughter. He served no jail time, and was allowed to re-enroll after a one-year suspension. Feldman says the university deemed the case difficult to prosecute because alcohol was involved. “Alcohol should not give a predator immunity from prosecution,” Feldman said.

    “That’s pretty typical,” Margaret Mikkelson said, executive director of Students Active for Ending Rape (SAFER). “Instead of getting support, victims are asked ‘Were you drinking? But didn’t you already sleep with this other guy?’ [They are] reasonable questions for a victim to ask ‘Do I want to go through all this? Is it really worth it?'”

    Even though the rapist had several penalties against him prior to raping Feldman’s daughter, including sexual harassment allegations by another woman living in the same co-ed building, he was still permitted to live on campus. Indiana University also allowed him back on campus after the he raped Feldman’s daughter.

    The university did not prohibit him from attending fraternity parties on school grounds during his suspension, which Feldman discovered through his MySpace page. “He came back for frat parties,” Feldman said, who believes that this response sends a message to rape victims that they won’t be taken seriously or get justice if they report a rape. “How would that make a victim feel safe, especially when she’s the reason he was suspended for a whole year?”

    University judicial hearings are separate from criminal charges. “A disciplinary hearing is not a court case, nor should they be because it’s an educational institution not a criminal one,” Mikkelsen said. A disciplinary hearing “is much faster than a court case so the perpetrator is at least off campus,” Mikkelsen said. Since universities are an educational institution, many require the offender to attend educational sessions.

    “All the girls that knew my daughter saw the guy get one year off and he can come back and he’s not barred from returning to campus,” she said. “They don’t take into consideration how much longer she has at the school. And he doesn’t get brought up on any charges?it’s like telling girls, ‘Don’t bother, because you might have to deal with this guy a month from now – and he’ll be mad.'”

    Mikkelsen said that this is typical for colleges, where “sometimes the woman is so frustrated with having to see her attacker on campus that the victim will drop out or transfer.”

    In a 2005 National Institute of Justice report, Congress delved into the reasons why women condemn themselves to silence rather than oust their attackers. “Campus policies on drug and alcohol abuse have been adopted at three-fourths of the schools studied” the report said. “At more than half of these schools, administrators say these policies inhibit reporting.” Feldman credits the alcohol policies at Indiana University for creating a reporting barrier in her daughter’s rape. “She waited because campus administrators make it very clear that if you’ve been drinking, you better not come back to the dormitory inebriated,” she said.

    “A majority of campus administrators believe that requiring victims to participate in adjudication discourages reporting; about one-third of these schools still have such a policy,” the report said. Requiring the victims to initiate the judicial hearing means “the woman has to deal with her attacker, whereas police initiate judicial hearings for other crimes,” Feldman said. Feldman believes that none of her daughter’s friends will ever report a rape to campus police after witnessing her daughter’s participation in the harrowing judicial process that followed. Feldman’s daughter was so exasperated during the judicial hearing that she asked the administrators present, “What do I need – an eyewitness?”

    Mikkelsen says that this judicial process is beneficial in some ways because it “gives control back to the victim,” but more often, women don’t report because it’s “a traumatic reporting experience where they ask the victim to repeat the story and ask uncomfortable questions and in the end, the attacker might get a slap on the wrists,” she said. “Victims ask themselves, ‘Is it worth going through this if I’m not going to get any justice?”

    A report by the Bureau of Justice in 2002, “Sexual Victimization of Collegiate Women,” found that 48.8 percent of women who were raped did not consider it rape. “Given the extent of non-stranger rape on campus, it is no surprise that the majority of victimized women do not define their experience as rape,” the report said. Organizations obtain data for underreporting by surveying people.

    Feldman’s daughter fell into this category immediately following her rape. “It took a few conversations with a friend for her to realize that it was rape,” says Feldman.

    Feldman asserts that victims experiencing shock and blaming themselves works in favor of protecting the university’s reputation. “Often campuses don’t take alleged crimes very seriously,” Mikkelsen said.

    Because of her dissatisfaction with how the university police handled the situation, Feldman filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, citing that the school failed to provide a safe environment for her daughter to pursue an education. The complaint was unsuccessful because the Department of Education “didn’t find enough evidence of any wrongdoing by the university.”

    “It’s a little vicious merry-go-round we’re on,” Feldman says.

    Because acquaintance rapes are the most common, the alarm buttons placed around college campuses give visiting parents a false sense of security about the dangers rapists pose. “The idea that it’s a stranger that pulls you into the bushes is a big fallacy,” says Feldman. “The reality is that the dorms need to be safer.” Women who live on campus are at a higher risk for sexual assault than commuters, according to the National Institute of Justice.

    There is a debate over whether there is a higher rate of victimization for students attending college. Some students found that this is true while others have not. Mikkelsen notes that the most common age group for sexual assault falls between 18-24 year olds and 40 percent of women in this age group attend college.

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