The Silent Victims: Campus Rapes Going Unreported

Institutional, personal barriers involved as rapes on campus go unreported

Special crimes investigator Sgt. Michael A. Cappabianca said the police department has access to specially trained State Crime Laboratory technicians and those technicians can be called to collect evidence.

Sgts. Cappabianca and Gorgoglione, who have thousands of such investigations between them, point out that they can start an interview and have everything in place in case a victim wants to press charges later.

Several city college Web sites give tips for victims on how to preserve evidence, such as do not smoke after a rape or shower after a rape.

Each college's official Web site lists safety tips for students, under the campus police or campus safety sections. Anyone who accesses the colleges' Web site can review this information.

"We know victims go through a tremendous amount of trauma in the cases," Sgt. Gorgoglione said. "We are trained to ask questions to lessen or not add any additional trauma. We try to get as much information we can without re-victimizing the victim."

Capt. McGinn said he does not intend to belittle the experience of t he campus police in the area, but he said they only conduct an average of five to seven sexual assault investigations a year, based on the reported statistics.

Authorities from Worcester State College, Assumption College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the College of the Holy Cross, Becker College, Quinsigamond Community College and Clark University said they work with Worcester police.

But they can't force a victim to talk to Worcester police, even though campus police recommend it, said Christine M. Bernard-McNamara, director of public safety at the College of the Holy Cross.

"Even if the assault is reported, there is reluctance to take it criminally," she said.

There may be a feeling of guilt by the victim or alcohol might have been involved. There are also the highly publicized rape allegations, such as those involving basketball superstar Kobe Bryant or the Duke University lacrosse players, Ms. Bernard-McNamara said.

Concern about going through a long, drawn-out court case or concern about publicity may make some hesitant to report an attack, she continued.

On college campuses, many victims know their assailants. The National Institute of Justice report said 80 percent to 90 percent of the time college students know their assailants. These kinds of assaults are commonly known as acquaintance rapes.

"If the victim wants to go internal and handle it that way, we do," Becker College Campus Police Chief David J. Bousquet said about sexual assault investigations at his college. "They might change their mind three years down, but biological evidence is out the window."

The statute of limitations on charging someone with rape is 15 years. Evidence not properly stored will be useless, authorities said. That is why city investigators want students to know they are accessible and available if a student wants to talk to city police.

Ms. Naughton said an 18-year-old student might not want to press charges, but at 28 might want to go forward. The college authorities interviewed said they all stress the importance of the rape kit and the availability of Worcester police.

Sometimes sexual assaults are reported internally among campuses, but still reported in the statistics, officials said. Capt. McGinn believes his department should still be notified, especially if a dangerous sex offender is around or on a campus. The city campuses are in the communities of the city, police said.

"That is part of the initial roadblock, not knowing about it," Sgt. Gorgoglione said. "Now it is more of our problem because they are in the community, they are unleashed and not in the walls of the campus."

Holy Cross uses third party reporting in some cases. Ms. Bernard-McNamara said hopefully students are comfortable talking with some officials on campus, or with a coach or a resident adviser. Those third parties can report a sexual assault to campus police for crime statistic reporting purposes.

A review of college campuses' policies on sexual assault investigations shows many campus police are RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) trained and female students are offered the training. WPI offers college credits for taking a RAD course. Campus police across the city also have undergone rape investigation training courses.