Nearly a month ago, former Amherst student Angie Epifano published her horrifying account of being raped in The Amherst Student and the subsequent mistreatment she suffered at the hands of college administrators. If you haven’t read it yet, you owe it to her to do so.
Her revelations came in the wake of an Amherst fraternity printing T-shirts for its annual pig roast depicting a battered woman in her underwear roasting over a fire on a spit. Amherst, a supposed bastion of progressive thought, was unmasked, and its ugly core of misogyny was exposed.
I am writing this column to tell you that what happened to Angie, from her rape to her experiences with an ignorant and unsympathetic counseling system, has happened here at Brown, another supposed haven for progressivism.
A Brown student was raped. But she doesn’t like to use the word rape because she doesn’t want to be dubbed hysterical or weak or a liar – like Angie was. So, she has resorted to the euphemism “he had sex with me without my consent.”
She immediately took the steps that Brown Health Services recommends. She reported her rape a day after it happened to Brown’s Psychological Services, which then sent her to a dean in the Office of Student Life.
The dean was sympathetic but never even suggested the idea of calling the police. She was told that she had two options. First, she could request a disciplinary hearing on the grounds of “sexual misconduct.” There would be witnesses, faculty advisers and hours of face-to-face time in a room with her rapist. To make matters worse, the dean informed her that her rapist would at most get suspended for three semesters, meaning she would still be on campus when he returned.
Her other option was to pursue a no-contact order. This does not function like a restraining order, and though it stipulates that neither student is allowed to contact the other, they could still see each other anywhere on campus or in the city.
Eventually, she broke down. Just seeing her rapist triggered full-blown episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder. And while she was forced to take a medical leave, her rapist remained here as if nothing had happened.
While he enjoyed his freedom, she had to listen to a psychiatrist who told her that at her age, she should want to have sex anyway. She also had to sit at home, unable yet to return to Brown while her rapist walked through the Van Wickle Gates.
I am telling her story because for survivors, anonymity is the only refuge. If you are going to feel isolated, you might as well not trap yourself in a panopticon at the same time. I am intimately familiar with this reaction: I am also a survivor of sexual assault.
This story should send a shockwave through the University. Brown administrators need to see the damage they are inflicting on their students with their current policies on sexual assault. During the whole process, contacting law enforcement was never offered to her by administrators, nor was she given anything resembling a viable option to confront her rapist within the framework here at Brown.
At Amherst, when Epifano’s story was published, President Biddy Martin called for an open meeting to discuss policies on sexual misconduct. Within a week, the college’s policies had been overhauled. This same response is desperately needed here at Brown. President Paxson, this is your chance to make your first mark on our community.
It is time to confront this issue on a systematic level as well. Even if we change things here at Brown, which we must, how many times will this scenario have to replicate itself before we change the way we think about rape? How many more survivors will it take?
The fraternities are a place to start this conversation. Nearly two years ago, I wrote a column about the dangers of sexual assault here at Brown, particularly in the frats on Wriston Quad. I received a huge response, mostly positive from the majority of the Brown community and overwhelmingly negative from the Greek male community. I was even told in an email from one fraternity member that I “do not know of anyone sexually assaulted at a Brown Greek house because we make sure it doesn’t happen here.”
Well, the woman I am writing about was raped in a frat. And I know a lot of other women who have had issues there as well. While I am in no way suggesting that fraternities are the only place where sexual assault is a concern, they are symbols of the sexism that exists on college campuses nationwide.
Fraternities are just the tip of the iceberg, though. We need to confront the attitudes surrounding sexual assault from all angles. The idea that there are “gray areas” in the definition of rape and that “violent rape” (i.e. Rep. Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape”) should be treated any more or less severely than any other kind sex without consent, needs to be eradicated.
The lid needs to be blown off of this horrible system of terror and repression. We can begin by making changes here on campus that will better protect the survivors of sexual assault and make sure a just solution is found.
Chris Norris-LeBlanc ’13 is from Rhode Island. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.