Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 54 percent of cases left unreported.
For many, college is filled with zany fraternity initiations, experiences of new cultures and career-building achievements. For others, it’s a place where they were raped by a classmate.
Laura*, a former graduate of University of Minnesota, struggles with the past. “It’s too painful to remember. When I visit my parents in Minneapolis I avoid driving near my old campus as I can’t face what happened to me.”
Laura was a freshman looking to meet new and interesting people, so when she was invited to a campus party, she jumped at the opportunity. “There were a lot of people drinking so as it got later, things were getting a little crazy. I was with a girlfriend who was also drinking a lot. There was a point where I saw my friend disappear into a room with a guy I’ve seen around the campus, so I thought I would text her and tell her that I wanted to go home. I waited for a bit then a guy from one of my classes came up to me and starting talking.
“I was leaning with my back on the wall and he stood in front with both arms on either side of me. He then tried to kiss me and when I struggled to push him away he put all his body on me and pinned me against the wall, and forcibly kissed and handled me. Even though there were other people there, everyone was too drunk to hear me shouting at him. He tried to take my arm and lead me into a room, but I escaped and I left. I didn’t realize that he followed me out, so on the campus grounds grass area he wrestled me to the ground and raped me.”
Unfortunately, experiences such as Laura’s are common among college campus girls. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1 in 5 college women will be raped at some point during a five-year college career, and that in most cases, the victim will know her assailant. The DOJ also said that half of all victims will not report their rape.
Sixty-two percent of female rape victims in general say they were assaulted by someone they knew.
Why the college campus?
At Vanderbilt University, four Vanderbilt players were dismissed from the football team this June after being charged with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery.
Footballers Brandon Vandenburg, Brandon Banks, Tip McKenzie and Corey Batey allegedly raped an unconscious woman in Vandenburg’s dorm room on June 23. University officials had been checking security footage in an unrelated incident and saw “suspicious behavior” by the four players when they alerted the police.
Responding to the safety issues, many universities have already put in place measures such as 24-hour campus police patrols and dormitory security, bike registration and alarm systems around the college. Even with this security, it is hard to identify the problem if the assailant is a college student or staff member.
Dallas Jessop, founder of Just Yell Fire — an organization that helps teenage women identify risk factors and teaches women skills to stop and prevent attacks — said that, “Women have a false sense of security when they are on campus. They think because they’re in their own dorms they are safe. Women don’t realize that people will “Hall graze” — walking up and down the dorm hallways looking for unlock doors or enter rooms if they hear someone in the shower.
“When you are living for the first time on your own, you are often inexperienced and very trusting in people, which can lead to uncomfortable situations. This is what Just Yell Fire is all about,” Jessop explained. “It’s about making women aware potentially dangerous situations that can lead to sexual assault and rape. There are a lot of good work and much needed organizations that help victims of rape, but what about giving women tools to prevent rape.”
Organization like Rainn — the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network — also says it’s hard to report incidents of rape and sexual assault in cases when the victim knows or dated the assailant. According to Rainn research, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with 54 percent of cases left unreported.
In her case, Laura said, “I was too scared to report it. I know I should have, I can’t help thinking he might have tried to rape another woman. If he did, am I responsible? You can’t help but think that sometimes.
“The worse thing was going to class and seeing him all the time. He acted to his friends like nothing had happened while I jumped, like physically jumped, whenever I was forced to make contact with him. I lived my whole college life in fear of him, and of men. It took me years to get over the fear and trying to talk about my experiences is hard.”
Like many victims of rape, Laura believes there can be more help to identify risks and give teenagers and young women living in dorms for the first time training on how to deal with difficult situations.
Just Yell Fire points out several places around campus women should be aware of, and how to get out of risky situations. She talks about how to avoid date rape drugs at parties, and how avoiding ATMs and parking lots, which she says are hunting grounds where a high percentage of campus assaults occur. And as far as “hall cruising” goes, she cautions dormitory residents to make sure their doors are locked, and to use campus shuttle services when crossing campus late at night.
She explained how to defend oneself using various techniques like attacking eyes, ears and groin to temporarily disarm an assailant and buy time to run away.
Universities say they take the issue of safety on college campus seriously, but under-reporting and poor conviction rates remain the status quo. According Rainn, “Most rapists will never spend a day in prison. But even when the crime is reported, it is unlikely to lead to an arrest and prosecution. Factoring in unreported rapes, only about 3% of rapists will ever serve a day in prison.”