The Silent Victims: Campus Rapes Going Unreported

Institutional, personal barriers involved as rapes on campus go unreported

During a five-year college career, one in five women experience rape.

That statistic, contained in a 2005 National Institute of Justice report, hasn't gone unnoticed by Worcester police who point out that it doesn't jibe with the low number of reported sexual assaults from the colleges in the city.

City detectives won't accuse local colleges of hiding numbers, but do question why police aren't called in to investigate some instances.

"I don't think they (colleges) are whitewashing cases, but I do think there is an incentive for them not to get police involved because it becomes a larger issue," said Detective Capt. Edward J. McGinn Jr., head of the Worcester Police Department's detective bureau. "There's an incentive not to report it, whitewash it, keep it inside and make it a noncrime. We've seen that in a couple of cases."

The low number of reported sexual assaults has some college officials concerned as well. They say they are worried that students who are victims of sexual assaults don't step forward to report the attack.

"We know that sexual assaults are one of most unreported crimes in the country," said Denise M. Darrigrand, dean of students for Clark University. "We know based on national statistics the numbers are low, but we can only bring the numbers forth that are reported."

And the National Institute of Justice report on sexual assaults on college campuses states just that. "Less than 5 percent of completed and attempted rapes of college students are brought to the attention of campus authorities and/or law enforcement," according to the National Institute of Justice.

There are reasons rapes and sexual assaults are not reported. Police Lt. William P. O'Connor of the police department's special crimes division said those reasons involve both individual and institutional barriers.

"There are institutional barriers, such as a campus doesn't have a certain protocol, a written protocol on who to report it to," he said. "There are also individual barriers. The person is reluctant to file, they're embarrassed and there may have been some alcohol or drug use prior to the incident."

The lieutenant and investigators interviewed said they would like to see a uniform protocol adopted by colleges in the city to report these crimes. A group involving several colleges is looking at such a protocol, he said.

Under the Jeanne Cleary Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, institutions participating in financial aid programs must disclose information about crimes statistics and safety policies and procedures.

"If you look at them (the crime statistics for colleges in the city) at face value there have been assaults reported," said special crimes investigator Sgt. Vincent F. Gorgoglione. "We certainly have no way of knowing how many weren't."

Cheryl A. Martunas, director of public safety and chief of police for Worcester Polytechnic Institute, said the reality is that there are sexual assaults occurring on campus and the one in every five number might be true.

"We have generally two or three reported a year," said Brad Holmes, director of public safety for Assumption College. "I've heard that for every rape reported, there are probably 15 to 20 not reported."

Worcester State College chief of police Rosemary F. Naughton said there is a perception that colleges and universities hide crime numbers. It is not the case, she said.

Even when rapes are reported, city detectives want to know when colleges feel the special crimes division should be called. Evidence collection, interviewing witnesses and the treatment of a victim, including having a rape kit completed at the hospital, all need to be done in a timely fashion, city police said.

"Some of the cases (from colleges) are reported to us late," Capt. McGinn said.

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