Judging from the number of students at NESCAC colleges who have come forward following former Amherst student Angie Epifano’s account in the Amherst Student of the horrifying details of her rape and the college’s inappropriate response and lack of support, one might say that it would not be surprising if a Bates student were to publish an article on the same topic.
Epifano’s heart-wrenching story, published October 17, brought a flood of angry and saddened responses to the injustices she experienced as a victim of rape at Amherst.
“I was so shocked that in our current world such blatant disregard for what really boils down to innate human rights would occur at an institution of supposedly high education,” said junior Abby Alexander.
The article, “An Account of Sexual Assault at Amherst College,” leaves no detail out. Epifano explained how she felt imprisoned for months at Amherst when she should have felt safe. Epifano should be graduating from Amherst with the class of 2014. She won’t. She will not graduate from Amherst because she could not stay at an institution that she said would not support her.
“In the past 15 years there have been multiple serial rapists [at Amherst], men who raped more than five girls, according to the sexual assault counselor. Rapists are given less punishment than students caught stealing. Survivors are often forced to take time off, while rapists are allowed to stay on campus. If a rapist is about to graduate, their punishment is often that they receive their diploma two years late,” Epifano wrote.
So let’s get this straight. Victims –– who have been assaulted at institutions that pride themselves for being extremely strict with all matters of sexual assault –– come forward, mustrepeat their story over and over to strangers. But for many perpetrators, the only punishment is a late diploma.
“The article [Epifano’s] has evoked a huge response on campus, largely in the realm of sparking a community-wide effort for change. I have friends who have been assaulted in past years who had similar experiences to Angie’s, where people they spoke to in confidence had told them not to go to the disciplinary council because of the further pain it might cause,” Claudia Gelfond, a senior at Amherst, told the BatesStudent.
We propose a community-wide change on campus. The Amherst campus has worked hard since the release of Epifano’s article, and we at Bates need to do the same. Cases like these should not be taken before a judiciary panel like Bates’s Student Conduct Committee (SCC). While the students and staff who comprise the SCC are people of intelligence and integrity, they are not trained professionals in the area of sexual assault.
Yes, we are a small liberal arts institution that takes pride in its independence. However, when someone comes forward to talk about a rape, professionals should be investigating and assisting –– and no one else.
Amherst College’s President Carolyn A. Martin has already proposed these types of changes within her first year at the college. According to the New York Times, after hearing complaints from many students, Martin hired trained investigators to look into cases that Bates would have the SCC look into. She has also updated and revised the student handbook and hired a well-known professional to look over Amherst’s policies.
“The administration [at Amherst] has been extraordinarily responsive, in my opinion, to the voices of the student body. Even before the article came out, we had a meeting to discuss the school’s policies regarding sexual misconduct, and a plan for speedy reform was already agreed upon and under way by last Sunday (the 14th);however, in light of the article, I hope that their focus and efforts will only increase,” said Amherst senior Gelfond.
“I think it is good that this matter has been brought to light and is being addressed now, because there is clearly something wrong in our school’s culture and protocols if survivors of sexual assault were not given the attention and respect that they deserve,” added Gelfond.
Yes indeed, the culture of colleges needs to change in order for fewer sexual assaults to occur. Sexual assaults happen everywhere. But is there something about today’s “hook-up” culture and sense of entitlement that make perpetrators feel like they can do whatever they want –– or simply not think about the consequences because there is often so much drinking involved?
More than 95 percent of rapes on college campuses are not reported, according to the Department of Justice. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes –– probably due to the response victims fear they will receive, as demonstrated in this case. For those few who do report, the number of assailants who actually get arrested and convicted is infinitesimal.
Let’s also be honest. Sexual assault does happen at Bates. Since Epifano bravely published her article, more people have been talking about sexual assaults at Bates, and also about the difficulties they have faced after coming forward.
The Bates Annual Safety Campus report states that there were 0, 2, and 6 sexual assaults, titled “sex offenses forcible,” reported in 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively. According to the Times, the Department of Justice published a survey of college students in 2000 that “found that for a school Amherst’s size, the expected average would be more than 100 such offenses each year, including about 18 rapes.” Amherst is about the same size as Bates.
Everybody knows that the stated figures of “0, 2, and 6” could not possibly represent the actual number of people who are sexually assaulted at Bates. People are just not coming forward. Why?
Epifano made the decision to leave Amherst. It is clear after reading her article that she had no other choice. She felt that the College, the deans, and the staff made her feel crazy and essentially told her it was too bad she did not have parents to advocate for her. The school should have been advocating for her. The sexual assault counselor, whom Epifano did not mention by name, resigned soon after Epifano’s article was released.
A positive consequence of Epifano’s article is the inspiration she has given others to come forward.
“While the Amherst community calls for reforms, on Wednesday the Amherst Student published an open letter to Amherst College President Martin signed by 267 students. The letter shared bits of testimonials from students who alleged they, too, had received inadequate care from school officials,” according to the Huffington Post.
Other schools across the country, including Bates, have not done enough. Colleges and universities, including Bates, must start making substantial and lasting changes in the way they support victims of sexual assault, and improving the culture of the campus to prevent these assaults.
Let’s not pretend anymore. As the New York Times article pointed out, “Are sex crimes more surprising at a school thought of as elite and supportive of women’s rights, or less surprising at the kind of place often labeled as having a culture of entitlement? Or are they just part of the stew of negligent attitudes, criminal conduct and tension between the sexes that can be found almost anywhere?”
We are not surprised. These unpleasant stories keep coming. This is not the time to be quiet.