Rape at the UA

Sexual assaults on campus are common. Why are reports and prosecutions so rare?

When Carolyn woke up, she felt, in her words, "really out of it."

She was alone in a bedroom, naked beneath a bedspread. She felt something sticky between her legs and pain in her vaginal area.

The UA student remembered being at a party and drinking--a lot. She remembered a guy on top of her; she remembered resisting. He was a guy she'd seen around, an athlete on a team. She only knew his first name. He had helped her to the bathroom when she was throwing up.

Carolyn quickly got out of the bed, collected her clothes and belongings, dressed and quietly left the house. She called a friend from her cell phone to pick her up.

But she never called the police. She never sought any counseling.

Carolyn is not the exception, but rather, the rule. Rape is a traumatic, life-altering event, but many victims, especially those of "acquaintance rape," choose not to report a rape or even seek help

Students at universities and colleges are at the highest risk for sexual assault, particularly acquaintance rape. A book by Robin Warshaw, I Never Called It Rape, cites a study of 6,000 college students at 32 colleges and universities. They reported:

· 1 in 4 college women has been a victim of rape or of an attempted rape.

· 84 percent knew their attacker.

· 42 percent told no one about the assault, and only 5 percent reported it to the police.

· 98 percent of rapes were men assaulting women.

· 75 percent of the men and at least 55 percent of the women involved in acquaintance rapes had been drinking and/or taking drugs before the attack. (Other statistics report this figure is closer to 90 percent.)

Most think of rape as an attack by a stranger. These kinds of attacks are more frequently reported to law enforcement. But the fact that most rapes are by someone the victim knows makes reporting very difficult. It often comes down to "he said, she said," with no witnesses and little evidence. Often, the victim is blamed by defense attorneys and accused of "making it up," although FBI statistics show that only 2-3 percent of rape reports are false.

It's pretty clear that most women don't report rapes at the University of Arizona. While the UA Police Department Web site reports five sexual assaults and three attempted sexual assaults during 2002, the on-campus Oasis Center for Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence received 29 reports of sexual abuse and 53 reports of sexual assault/rape over the same time period.

When asked about the discrepancy between UAPD and Oasis statistics, University of Arizona Police Department Chief Tony Dakin points out that UAPD takes reports of sexual crimes on the campus only from victims who wish to pursue criminal charges, while Oasis' statistics reflect rapes from anywhere and from any time.

Dakin says all reports of sexual crimes are "vigorously investigated" at the UA, and that acquaintance rape is taken seriously. As proof of his concern, Dakin offers a letter he wrote to the Arizona Daily Wildcat last August cautioning incoming students about the dangers of sexual assault and spelling out the consequences. He says he encourages anyone who believes they have been raped or anyone who has knowledge of a rape to report it to UAPD.

Dakin laments that there are limits to what the police can do. Police rely heavily on physical evidence, and when one party is claiming consensual sex, there often isn't enough evidence for prosecution.

"For many social reasons, women don't chose to report to law enforcement," says Dakin. "Some want the morning-after pill, an HIV test, a test for sexually transmitted diseases, a pregnancy test, and (then they) want to put the incident behind them."

Dakin hopes that if women choose not to report sexual crimes, that at least they will seek help from the Oasis Center, a free and confidential unit of the University of Arizona Student Health Services.

The Oasis Center guarantees confidentiality. The policy: "It is the right of a victim to determine if, how and where the incident is reported and how much information is to be released."

Oasis can provide crisis counseling, advocacy, telephone assistance, information on resources, and a review of legal, medical and counseling options. If a victim chooses to report the rape, the counselors will support the victim in their decision.

Irene Anderson, the director of the Oasis Center, blames the prevalence of acquaintance rape on the desensitization of society, combined with the normalization and tolerance of sexual violence. She says women may try to "deny, minimize and discount" what happened to them.

There are many barriers a victim must cross in order to report a rape, according to Anderson. To begin with, the victim must accept being a victim. Then, she must publicly hold the offender accountable and deal with all the ramifications that accompany that decision--including losing control over what happens as the case proceeds through the criminal justice system.

Given the uncertainties of that process, the victim may chose to perceive what happened as "a bad choice" rather than a crime, and to escape having to deal with being a victim.

This means the woman won't have to go through the unpleasant process of reporting and prosecuting a rape. But it also means the rapist goes unpunished.

SORORITIES ON THE UA campus say they are aware of the dangers of acquaintance rape. UA Junior Lauren Taylor Dean, president of the Panhellenic Council that serves as the governing body of all recognized sororities at the UA, knows women who have suffered the horrors of acquaintance rape.

"It is a goal of Panhellenic to make sure that university women have the information and the resources available to them to deal with situations like acquaintance rape," says Dean.

The Panhellenic Council helps finance the UA's Oasis Center, as well as a Health Advocate Training Program that trains women from each sorority to help with issues such as acquaintance rape.

Panhellenic used a grant to bring Andrea Cooper to speak to more than 600 UA students last September about acquaintance rape. She also spoke about the resulting depression that can follow an attack and ways to help someone who has been raped.

On New Year's Eve 1995, Cooper and her husband arrived home to find that their only child, Kristin, a beautiful, 20-year-old college student in a sorority with lots of friends and everything to live for, had shot herself.

After reading Kristin's journals and talking to her friends, the Coopers discovered that Kristin had been raped by someone she thought of as a friend, five months before she committed suicide. She chose not to go to police or her parents, apparently convinced they wouldn't believe her. Kristin told a few friends who tried to get her help, but she resisted.

From what the Coopers have been able to piece together, after talking to friends and reading Kristin's journal, Kristin told her boyfriend about the attack. He couldn't handle it and broke up with her, something Andrea Cooper refers to as "secondary wounding." The Coopers believe her rape and the "secondary wounding" caused Kristin to be deeply depressed--and ultimately, to take her own life.

Although the Coopers say they know who the rapist was, nothing could be done, because Kristin was dead.

Cooper, who has a master's degree in music, never imagined she would be spending 10-12 days a month on the road, speaking at colleges throughout the nation. But she is committed to doing whatever she can to prevent another young woman from committing suicide or another parent from having to go through what she and her husband have experienced. Tri Delta Sorority has sponsored Cooper, as she has spoken to thousands of students during the past six years.

"Colleges don't want to acknowledge acquaintance rape as a problem," says Cooper. "Colleges don't want to look bad."

She reminds colleges and universities of their obligation to help victims. She informs them about the laws that cover reporting crime, such as the Jeanne Cleary Act, a federal law requiring colleges and universities to disclose information about campus crime and security policies. (The law was named after Jeanne Cleary, a young woman raped and murdered by a fellow student in 1986 at Lehigh University.)

Her message to rape victims: "Get outside help." Cooper alerts students to watch for signs of depression in their friends and tells them how to help someone who has been raped. She also gives tips on prevention and how students can watch out for each other.

Cooper requires a counselor be present when she speaks at colleges; it's not unusual for young women to run crying from her speech. Cooper spends time after every speech listening to stories of acquaintance rape and referring young women to appropriate agencies for help. She also hands out a booklet, titled "What to Do If You Are Raped," and provides phone numbers for assistance.

"You can't treat victims like it's their fault," she says.

If a victim goes to a hospital or clinic, it is mandatory that medical personnel call law enforcement. While UAPD investigates about five cases a year that happen on campus, they work with other jurisdictions that investigate the majority of the student rape cases, which happen off-campus.

According to Tucson Police Department Sexual Assault Detective Robert Gamez, after receiving a rape referral, a detective will meet with a rape victim, often at a hospital or clinic. The detective will interview the victim and try to find out "what the dynamics are" and "the totality of the circumstances." The detective then decides if the charges made by the victim seem credible and rise to the level of prosecution.

If the detective decides there is enough evidence to go ahead with an investigation, the victim is subjected to an examination by a trained forensic medical examiner using a "rape kit" to gather evidence.

The exam is not pleasant; it takes an average of four hours.

County attorneys will then examine the evidence and decide whether to drop the case or prosecute, which involves taking the case to court or working to win a plea outside the courtroom.

"A high percentage of the cases that come across my desk do not rise to the level of prosecution," says Gamez. He says the reasons vary; often, the rape is reported weeks or months later, with no witnesses and no evidence.

"Sometimes it is a misunderstanding between two people," says Gamez. In one case, a young woman willingly engaged in petting and fondling and agreed to "anything but actual sex." The young man proceeded to have anal sex with her. Gamez says the young man claimed he thought she only meant no vaginal sex.

Gamez says in acquaintance rape, there is often a lot of alcohol involved, which makes things murky.

Even if an investigation is not initiated, a written report is made and filed. No matter what the outcome, Gamez says, the victims are often "humiliated, feel victimized and anguished." He always refers them to counseling.

ONE VICTIM, ANOTHER university student we'll call Claire, did report her attack and felt further traumatized by that decision.

Claire's rapist was a friend of a friend. He had been pursuing her, but she wasn't interested. At a party, he pulled her into a bedroom and raped her repeatedly. He also beat her and pulled out her hair. When she tried to cry out, he forced her face into the bed. He rambled about why she hadn't agreed to a date and terrorized her. A friend finally came looking for her, and he let her go.

She didn't tell anyone, raced home to shower and left town. A couple of days later, she was experiencing pain and bleeding, and a friend insisted on taking her to a clinic.

By law, the clinic had to report the attack. Claire was further traumatized by a police interrogation, a lengthy, painful exam and a photo-taking session of her injuries. Afterward, she was told that the evidence was not good enough to go forward with an investigation.

Justice only took place when an organization the young man belonged to kicked him out after investigating the matter. Meanwhile, the attacker has tried to contact Claire.

She is suffering insomnia, fear of retaliation and continued pain.

SHOULD AN acquaintance rape actually reach the point of prosecution, the Pima County Attorney's Office would be the prosecuting agency.

Kathleen Mayer, supervisor of the Special Victims Unit of the Pima County Attorney's Office, has been prosecuting sexual assault cases for 17 years. Mayer said she can explain why many women chose not to report an acquaintance rape in two words: "Kobe Bryant."

The Los Angeles Lakers basketball player is accused of raping a young woman in a Colorado hotel room.

Mayer says that what the victim in the Bryant case has already had to endure is unconscionable. She believes the message is clear: "If you report a rape, you are inherently disbelieved."

Mayer notes that the media doesn't call her a "victim" or even an "alleged victim"; they consistently call her "Kobe Bryant's accuser." Pamela Mackey, Bryant's defense attorney, said at Bryant's preliminary hearing that the victim "is not worthy of your belief."

Mayer says out that there is no other crime in which the victim is often blamed for the crime. Mayer says it still surprises her that people hold on to the belief that "good girls don't get raped." Mayer believes Bryant's case, along with sexual assault cases at the Air Force Academy, show how men who find themselves in a position of privilege and entitlement and somehow fail to learn to respect women.

According to a study by the Interagency Council, there were more than 1,700 reported sexual assaults against minors and adults in the Tucson metropolitan area in 2002. Although she doesn't have the exact figures, Mayer estimates that the Pima County Attorney's Office probably takes no more than a dozen rape cases to trial every year. Mayer believes the office "pleads out," i.e. arranges plea bargains, for another 50-60 cases a year.

Mayer understands how difficult it is for sexual assault victims to take their cases to trial; it's difficult for the same reasons she believes so many women don't report. The victims can become the suspects, with many believing that they somehow seduced their rapist or asked for it by virtue of bad choices in what they wore, how much they drank, what party they attended, or by engaging in some form of mutual affection before saying "no."

Pleading out a case can hold the perpetrator responsible while sparing the victim the trauma of the courtroom.

While Kathleen Mayer prosecutes sexual assault cases, Joann Scammon has spent four years as a trial advocate for sexual assault victims in the Pima County Victim Witness Program. Scammon also brings up the Bryant case as an example why sexual assault victims won't report. She calls it "narcissistic entitlement"--a term applied to athletes, politicians, celebrities or people who simply believe they are entitled to what they want, including the woman of their choice, whether she agrees or not.

She says she has seen first-hand how victims of narcissists and others are treated in court.

"With the exception of the very elderly, the victim is every bit as much on trial as the defendant," says Scammon. "Jurors are very judgmental, especially the women jurors. They want to see Mother Teresa or June Cleaver up there on the stand, not some attractive, young person with any hint of sexuality."

Scammon tries to prepare victims for court, where they must re-live and recount what was most likely the most horrible experience of their entire life--all in front of family, friends, jurors, courtroom employees and other strangers.

Scammon encourages victims to dress conservatively, wear long sleeves and skirts of modest length, with no navel showing and no piercings. She encourages them avoid eye contact with jurors and to not act defiant or, for that matter, anything but demure. She reminds them that jurors carefully watch facial expressions, attire and body language. She also warns victims that even with rape shield laws in place in Arizona, a victim may have her life history brought up, including drug offenses, mental health issues and past sexual experiences.

THOSE WHO WORK WITH RAPE victims in the community want to make sure that all victims of sexual assault are aware there is help. Bridget Riceci, president and CEO of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, says she wants victims to know there is support.

"First and foremost, we believe you; it's not your fault; you are not alone; and we will help you," says Riceci.

SACASA is the largest provider of sexual assault services in Arizona. The group partners with 13 law enforcement agencies, crime labs, hospitals, the Pima County Attorney's Office, the UA and other agencies to provide services around the clock every day of the year. Although the overwhelming majority of rape case involve men raping women, SACASA provides extensive services to all survivors of sexual assault, including men, people with disabilities, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, as well as their families and significant others.

SACASA's crisis line is available 24 hours a day. They provide outpatient mental health services and community outreach and education.

Riceci, like Mayer and Scammon, brings up the Kobe Bryant case as an example of why women hesitate to report sexual assault.

"A myth still exists by some in society that many women who report rape are 'crying wolf,' and particularly in cases where the perpetrator is a celebrity, are out for fame and fortune," Riceci wrote in a recent guest opinion in a local newspaper. "It takes an extraordinary amount of courage, determination strength and support for a person who has experienced sexual assault to come forward, make a report and proceed through the criminal justice system."

The aftermath of sexual assault can be devastating. Rape Trauma Syndrome is a recognized response to being raped: It may include sleeplessness, nightmares, reliving the rape, phobias, depression, guilt, fear, sexual dysfunction, anger and any number of other problems.

In the final analysis, it does not matter what a victim was wearing, where a victim was or how much a victim drank; the victim did not ask for it," or deserve it. There is not any one way or normal way that any victim should have reacted during the rape or after. And "no" at any point in a sexual encounter still means "no."

Riceci quotes from SACASA's brochure, "If two people have sex and one doesn't give consent (either explicitly or implicitly), that's rape. And rape is a crime."