The Silent Victims: Campus Rapes Going 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.

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.

Orientation is a time colleges use to talk to students, and in some cases parents, about sexual assaults, alcohol and other pressures in college life. Clark University has a program called "When a kiss is not just a kiss."

The campus police in the city are trained and very professional, Lt. O'Connor said. Even if a victim does not want to take a case to court, there has to be a more uniform policy throughout the campuses that involves Worcester police and also the district attorney's office, he said.

"My hope is there is some sort of uniform policy," he said.