Blowing the Whistle on Campus Rape


This is an excerpt from the cover story of the latest issue of Ms. magazine, now available on newsstands and by subscription digitally or in print.

During her second weekend as a freshman on a California campus, Kerri accepted an offer from Mitch, a popular senior who held student office, to walk her back to her dorm from an off-campus party. When they reached Kerri’s room, Mitch raped her.

A few months later, Kerri—who had not reported the assault—learned that Mitch had raped yet another woman after walking her home from a party. And the previous year, the university had found him responsible for a prior sexual crime. His punishment? Watch a 23-minute educational video on sexual violence and write a two-page reflection paper.

This is a true story (with names and identifying details altered), and similar ones are unspooling on virtually every college campus across the U.S. According to the 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study [PDF] funded by the National Institute of Justice, at least 1 in 5 women will experience a rape or an attempted rape at some point during college, and 90 percent of these rapes will be perpetrated by acquaintances. However, only 12 percent of college rape survivors will report their experience to law enforcement authorities.

That low percentage is no surprise. We have heard hundreds of eerily similar stories from survivors about how their schools “manage” this problem: Investigations and disciplinary reviews are bungled; only light sanctions are administered; and schools lack support services for those who have been victimized. Many schools discourage official reports through onerous reporting processes and not-so-subtle victim-blaming. Like the administrator who asked Amherst College’s Angie Epifano, “Are you sure it was rape?”

LawBut there’s hope and evidence that this situation is changing, as a reinvigorated campus anti-rape movement is burgeoning across the country. The tools of this movement—Title IX complaints, the Clery Act, group lawsuits and social media—have effectively brought school mishandling of sexual assault and rape into the national discourse. And now another big hammer has arrived: The Campus Sexual Assault Violence Elimination (SaVE) Act, part of the reauthorized Violence Against Women Act of 2013, will go into effect in mid-March.

On top of that, President Barack Obama unveiled a new White House report on rape and sexual assault and announced a White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The president also took the unprecedented step of praising brave campus survivors who are part of the anti-rape movement, assuring them “I have your back.”

The sheer number of campuses that have now fielded Title IX and Clery complaints would not have been possible without the advent of new communication technologies. Activists use blogs, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, Skype, etc., not only to share their own experiences of sexual violence and institutional betrayal, but to connect with others.

Tufts University student Wagatwe Wanjuki was a pioneer in this realm when, in 2009, she chronicled her assault and the school’s betrayal on her blog Raped at Tufts University. Tucker Reed at USC followed this model with her blog Covered in Bandaids, and in 2011 Grace Brown started the “Project Unbreakable” Tumblr to document rapists’ statements to survivors.

By August of 2013, formal groups had coalesced to share knowledge. We cofounded End Rape on Campus (EROC), for example, to assist campuses in filing federal complaints, while Amherst’s Dana Bolger and Yale’s Alexandra Brodsky launched Know Your IX, which provides online resources for virtually every aspect of Title IX and Clery.

Many survivor activists report that their schools have made some changes in response to their efforts and federal complaints, but not a single activist we interviewed thinks their school is making the hard changes that are necessary. According to an April 2013 national SAFER (Students Active for Ending Rape) study [PDF] half the students surveyed rated their school a C or lower in terms of handling sexual assault. Only 9.8 percent rated their school an A.

What would an A-rated school look like? The generally accepted opinion among activists is that it would start telling the truth about sexual-assault numbers, adopt best practices for new-student orientation, develop ongoing prevention programming and improve institutional conduct proceedings and support services.

Kerri, the young woman we profiled at the beginning of this piece, is fortunately picking up the pieces of her life, though she still has bouts of depression and rarely sleeps through the night. She expects to graduate, but her low GPA will make it difficult to get into graduate school. Meanwhile, her rapist was accepted into an MBA program. Imagine, one day he could be a successful businessperson with a long, hidden record of undetected rapes.

The struggle is far from over, but momentum on campuses around these issues is strong and growing. Schools can no longer rely on “those pesky activists” to graduate in four years and just “move on” with their lives.

Join the Ms. community today to read the rest of this important report.0

Photo from Flickr user Wolfram Burner under license from Creative Commons 2.0

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Caroline Heldman is chair of the politics department at Occidental College in Los Angeles. She specializes in the presidency, race and gender in U.S. politics and co-edited Rethinking Madame President: Is the U.S. Really Ready for a Woman in the White House?  She co-founded the national organization End Rape on Campus.





Danielle Dirks is an assistant professor of sociology at Occidental College. Trained both as a sociologist and a criminologist, her research focuses on the aftermath of violent victimization, survivorship and punishment. She co-authored How Ethical Systems Change: Lynching and Capital Punishment and cofounded  End Rape on Campus and the Oxy Sexual Assault Coalition.


  1. Charles Huckelbury says:

    By all means, continue to press for changes in the universities’ responses to rape, beginning with dismissing “counselors” who ask insulting questions such as “Are you sure it was rape?” or who compare rape with football and the victim a quarterback who could have done something differently to alter the outcome of the “game.” Fundamentally, rape victims should be encouraged to report rape to the police and not the university. The rapists should matriculate into a prison cell and not an MBA program. Rape is a felony, not a simple breach of university decorum, and should be treated like the serious crime it is. Only the police will do that, and locking up the bad guys will prevent future rapes by him and possibly discourage other predators from risking the same punishment.

    • Jane Wheeler says:

      “Rape is a felony, not a simple breach of university decorum, and should be treated like the serious crime it is.” Agreed. I had the same reaction to the article. The university has the power to expel a student but not to imprison him.
      There is a big role the university/college could play in supporting rape victims and creating a safer campus environment, but it should not attempt to adjudicate felony crimes.

  2. I can say that these guys get away with it, and reporting it doesn’t help, because it’s word against word. You don’t always get believed. I have been assaulted by one man and stalked for six months by another. I tried to tell somebody what was going on and NOBODY would listen until I almost had a nervous break. It’s ridiculous for them to get away with doing this or to have to watch an “educational video”. If you rape someone you should be locked up, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Allowing them to get away with it is just like telling them “Oh, it’s alright, SHE doesn’t matter.”

  3. Thanks for reporting this good news. Hopefully, over time rapists will stop being ignored and wrist-slapped so that women will become more comfortable reporting assault, and we will see the rate of rape fall.

  4. Rape is a human rights violation and we cannot stop fighting for the rights of women and their right to be protected from sexual predators. Unfortunately we will always run into the issues of he said she said, the attacker is well known in his community, wealthy or he has his whole life in front of him why ruin it for one mistake. WOMEN MATTER!!! The only way to get the naysayer’s to grasp that concept is by putting it in their face EVERYDAY! The moment we stop reporting assaults all together and continue living as if we did something wrong, they’ve won. The fact that we have a compassionate POTUS who himself has two daughters who will one day attend college, this is the time to force adequate change on universities who continue to sweep these assaults under the rug, so their star athletes can win another trophy and accolades for the institution. We have the power to force change and we must continue to apply the pressure at all cost. There is help available and there are more people than you know that care about what happens to these young women and would actively assist in their recovery so they can become leaders in their communities and advocate for those who may not be as strong.

  5. The facts are so unsettling it can be discouraging. Women are raped and often the perp gets away with his savage action. Women are still afraid to report their assault and women often believe they caused the rape. It is up to society to create an atmosphere which is victim friendly and encourages those who suffer to come forward and make their claims. We have painted victims with a very broad brush and often with colors which taint and mar the victims. The perp is the aggressor and there is no excuse for their behavior. Law enforcement must learn to discern truth from fiction.

  6. Gwen E Mugliston, PhD, DVM, MSN says:

    In my opinion, the USA is a rape culture and I think based on what I have read, seen and heard, bullying is at the heart of it. Bullying begins at home, carries on at school and meets our social environment at every level. Bully addresses the need for power, lust, greed, envy, fear, anger etc in men and maybe some women. For some reason we women in our homes seem to think bullying is O.K. It is not and we must be the ones to stop it. If your husband, father or brother is a bully and has perpetuated psychological or physical abuse, then he must be reported. As a society we must make that possible.

    Denigrating women in any form is another form of bullying and it is every where in the American culture. So let us start with our religious institutions and talk about it. Maybe we should get rid of the bible. Many too many misogynist statements in that book.

    Maybe we should start acting out Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them do Unto You. I think we should publically shame bullys and people who denigrate others. Public shaming might be helpful.

  7. Rapists sure shouldn’t get away with it; they are criminal cowards who pick on those physically weaker & smaller than themselves. Perhaps they need to be castrated!!?

  8. Yes, reportinhg rape makes no difference. Many, many years ago, when I reported an attempted rape by my employer to Human Resources, I was fired.
    Later, in 1973 when I was kidnapped and raped and reported it to the Police, giving them the address with street name and house number where I was taken, the Police did nothing. Never heard from them. They were only interested in asking me questions about the details of the rape itself.

  9. Adele Galloway says:

    Stop reporting it to the campus muckity mucks. It’s obvious that they have their interests in mind and could care less about you and your welfare. Go to the police in your city, then hire an attorney to sue the school and the rapist. Call the newspapers and make a really big deal about how rape is a CRIME and not a game. What the hell?

  10. Enough with this stupid “rape education”. These do-gooders don’t seem to realize that rape is a CRIME, not a university disciplinary issue. The university should not be the ones dealing with this. This is a domain of the police and courts. Sickos will be sickos, and they’ll laugh off all education you give them if they’re so twisted in the head. Try solving all crime that way and see how that works

  11. I think we need to talk more about educating young men that sexual aggression is not acceptable. Reporting these assaults and punishment or rehabilitation for the offenders is all well and good, but wouldn’t our efforts be better spent in education to prevent these assaults from happening. I don’t know why, but somehow these men don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong. I really think that they can be taught to have respect for women and healthy attitudes towards sex.

  12. I’ve been talking about this for 10 years … but no one gives a shit about what I think or what hell I’ve lived through. I see UVA President Sullivan made a statement. Fuck her.

  13. the real numbers on campus rape are here

    it’s not 1 in 5
    it’s 6 in 1000…. according to the largest and most exhaustive government research ever done

    the 1 in 5 myth has been debunked repeatedly

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