A woman's deeply personal op-ed detailing her experience of rape at Amherst College has moved women at other universities to speak out about their own experiences of inadequate response to sexual assault on campus.
Angie Epifano's piece, published in the Amherst College student newspaper, the Amherst Student, last week, ignited a debate over how the Massachusetts liberal arts college handles reports of sexual assaults. Epifano, a former Amherst student, recounted that after she was assaulted, the school handled her report inappropriately, eventually leading her to choose to withdraw from the college.
While the Amherst community calls for reforms, on Wednesday the Student published an open letter to Amherst College President Biddy Martin signed by 267 students. The letter shared bits of testimonials from students who alleged they, too, had received inadequate care from school officials.
The same day, the Student published another personal account of sexual assault on campus, this one from Alexis Myers, a former Mount Holyoke College student who said she was raped by an Amherst College acquaintance. Myers wrote that after she reported her assault, she went through a disciplinary hearing, where she had to repeatedly defend herself from claims that she "made it up" and was forced to explain "rape is rape."
"I have more flashbacks about this hearing than I do about my rape," Myers wrote. "I was appalled that Amherst College handled the matters in my case with extreme insensitivity."
News of the controversy at Amherst and Epifano's op-ed spread, eliciting responses from students around the country.
An anonymous student at Tufts University also came forward, with a piece posted on In The 'Cac, an independent blog of the New England Small College Athletic Conference. The Tufts student said she had spoken to a number of other students who were survivors of sexual assaults that, like her own, went unreported.
"My sophomore spring, an identity was forced upon me, and I will never be able to shed it," she wrote. "I became a survivor of sexual assault."
The anonymous Tufts student said when she reported the assault to the fraternity president of her attacker, he said he “was not surprised" and had "heard stories about this kid before." According to the student, the fraternity president said he didn't want to get police involved because it would "create more problems for the fraternity."
The Tufts student noted Epifano's story, as well as that of student Alanna Badgley, who wrote about being raped at Wesleyan, moved her to share her own experience.
In the Midwest, a former student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison also came forward this week in an anonymous op-ed detailing her own experience of rape and the aftermath of dealing with school officials who discouraged her from pressing charges.
"It is a well-known fact that sexual assaults are one of the most underreported crimes in the nation. And I contributed to that trend," the unnamed alumna wrote in the UW-Madison student newspaper, the Daily Cardinal. "But I never thought that university officials, or police officers, would play a part in that process."
The UW-Madison alumna recounts going to the hospital for a rape kit and phoning her mother, who promptly drove from Chicago to Madison to see her. She writes that after speaking with her alleged attacker, a detective told her that if she wanted to file a formal complaint, she would have to do so with the police department on campus. Counselors on campus then persuaded her not to pursue charges. She writes she's spent almost every day since wishing she had formally pressed charges.
The alumna said she spent two years trying to push the rape aside, but was inspired to speak up after reading Epifano's column, where she noticed a coincidence:
My rape incident happened to me in the least expected of places—at UW-Madison, a university that I had grown to call home. It happened in my apartment—a place I had lived comfortably for three years. It is true what they say. You never think it is going to happen to you until it does. And then, it is all you can think about. Sometimes for weeks, or in my case, for months.
I do not have the exact same story as Angie, but I share her frustration. The interactions Angie had with campus officials and police officers at Amherst match those I had at UW-Madison. Coincidentally, Biddy Martin was my chancellor at UW-Madison when I was raped, and now presides as president at Amherst College.
Martin didn't respond for a request for comment from The Huffington Post about the assaults at Amherst and UW-Madison, but she did address the issue of sexual violence on campus in a letter, calling Epifano's story "horrifying."
"In response to her story, still more accounts of unreported sexual violence have appeared in social media postings and in emails I have received from several students and alumni," Martin wrote. "Clearly, the administration’s responses to reports have left survivors feeling that they were badly served. That must change, and change immediately."
At Amherst, the number of reported forcible sexual offenses on campus increased to 15 in 2011, up from 7 in 2009. At Tufts, 19 forcible sex offenses were reported since 2009 at the Medford campus, but none at the other campuses.
According to the Badger Herald, reports of sexual assaults at UW-Madison have gradually increased over the past few years. In 2011, there were 37 forcible sex offenses reported on campus and in residence halls at UW-Madison, up from 16 reported in 2010, according to the annual campus crime report. A total of 123 sexual assaults -- both on- and off-campus -- were reported in 2011.
Scott Girard, the UW-Madison Daily Cardinal's editor-in-chief, told HuffPost it was a tough editorial decision to run the alumna's story without her name.
"While there is always a balance between the different journalistic values," he said, "a story like this, and a situation like this, merits the utmost respect for the person who is making such a difficult decision to come forward with the information and experience she did."
Girard hopes the higher numbers of reported sexual assaults at UW-Madison are the result of "increased knowledge [of reporting], and not an increase in sexual violence on campus."
"Regardless, the story that appeared in our paper shows there is a long way to go in dealing with sexual assaults," he added, "both in preventing them and handling the situations when they do occur, here and around the country."
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