Skip Navigation
Regional News
From a Walk Against Rape. Photo: Steve Rhodes
From a Walk Against Rape. Photo: Steve Rhodes

National sex assault conversation echoes on North Country campuses

Listen to this story
Last week, the White House's Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault announced that colleges aren't doing nearly enough.

Its report rolls out a comprehensive list of steps to help colleges and universities do better: from how they assess the problem, to how to prevent it, to improving how a school responds when a student is assaulted, and getting all those resources out in the open.

The task force's report is turning up a national conversation, one that's happening on campuses right here on the North Country.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this


When it was time for college to start up last fall, Catherine was one of those students who was excited to go back. She was entering her sophomore year at St. Lawrence; she'd had a great summer, going on long runs every day. "I felt so confident in my body for the first time."

One night she and her friends decided to go out to a party, and Catherine (we've changed her name for the story),who says her go-to outfit is usually leggings and an oversized t-shirt, decided to dress up. "So I decided I was going to wear this beautiful purple velour dress and put makeup on, and I went to this party and everyone was like, 'Wow, you look phenomenal.'"

The party was crowded and at one point Catherine decided to get some air. "And I was just standing outside by myself and a man came up behind me and shoved his hand up my dress. He touched my vagina. And in that moment, I just froze."

Catherine says she caught a glimpse of him from behind, but never saw his face. She says there were other people standing out there, but it didn't seem like anyone noticed. "He just slipped into the crowd."

Catherine went back into the party, not saying anything at first. But one of her friends noticed something was wrong. "I talked to some of my other friends about it and they told me I shouldn't report it, because it would give the place where the party was a bad name, and there was no way to trace the guy so why is it worth reporting…"

But that didn't feel right to her. In the middle of the night, she called her mom. Catherine's mom's a lawyer, and had actually had a similar experience of her own. "She was like, 'Babe, you gotta report it.' And my friends were telling me something different but of course my mother is the one that I listen to over everyone."

From The Sexual Victimization of College Women. 2000. National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice
From The Sexual Victimization of College Women. 2000. National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics, US Department of Justice
Catherine's experience is extremely common. A study out of the Department of Justice shows that one in five women is sexually assaulted in college. But, as that study points out, those acts of assault go chronically underreported.

Phil Fiacco is director of campus safety at Paul Smiths College. He says one reason those numbers are so low is fear. "Individuals don't know what's going to happen when they file that report. And that's where I think education and training on campus will increase those numbers."

Students march to "Take Back the Night." Photo: Tulane University
Students march to "Take Back the Night." Photo: Tulane University
The White House aims to get rid of a lot of those unknowns, demanding better resources for survivors. The task force also promises to strengthen law enforcement around cases of sexual assault. Fiacco says being transparent about the statistics helps students like Catherine feel comfortable coming forward.

"And people get scared when they say, 'Oh my goodness, your numbers went up by ten how can they go from one to 11 in a year?' Well the numbers aren't really going up, we're doing a better job of having the victims report those numbers."

Women participate in "Slut Walk," May 25, 2012, in Toronto. SlutWalk has become a worldwide movement, working to challenge mindsets and stereotypes of victim-blaming. Photo: Eric Parker
Women participate in "Slut Walk," May 25, 2012, in Toronto. SlutWalk has become a worldwide movement, working to challenge mindsets and stereotypes of victim-blaming. Photo: Eric Parker
The White House's report demands improvements to how colleges deal with sexual assault cases. For example, it says a survivor's sexual history shouldn't come into play, and that even if two people have had consensual sex before, it doesn't rule out the possibility of assault.

The new report also proposes better education for men on what consent means. Here's Vice President Joe Biden, who co-chairs the task force, speaking last Tuesday: "It doesn't matter what quote she was wearing, whether she drank too much, whether it was in the back of the car, in her room, on the street, it does not matter. It does not matter if she initially said yes and then changed her mind and said no! No means no. Whenever it is stated."

Catherine says it took her a while to truly believe that what that guy did to her wasn't her fault. "And I know obviously you can't blame a victim or a survivor at all because of what they were wearing but that night all I could think of was if I didn't wear that dress, if I didn't put that makeup on, this wouldn't have happened to me."

She says there are all sorts of things she wishes she could have done in that moment. "I just wish I had been able to mobilize himself and say, 'Why, that's not acceptable, who are you, you need to learn that women need to consent to sexual acts.'"

On the morning right after that party, Catherine stepped into campus security and told her story. After that night, she saw a counselor a few times. They never found the guy who assaulted her, but she says she has no regrets about reporting. "I wanted to make sure that my assault was recorded and reported so that the university could have a better image of what a problem sexual assault is on college campuses."

This first report is just a set of tools and guidelines to improve college safety on campuses. But the White House hopes to make some of these suggestions into requirements by 2016. This past Thursday the Department of Education announced they are investigating the handling of sexual assault cases at 55 colleges and universities. None of those are in the North Country.

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.