Angie Epifano, 23, sat in her room clutching her light pastel blue hoodie, her voice trembling as she recalled the experience that changed her life.
“I felt alone and it seemed like no one could help me,” she said. Epifano was raped by a neighbor on May 25, 2011 while she was attending Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. According to the National Institute of Justice’s report on sexual victimization in 2011, “a college with 10,000 students could experience as many as 350 rapes a year.”
Despite the resources provided to victims under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in education programs or activities, many victims do not utilize them. Even with the establishment of this act, some colleges are having difficulties enforcing it and many of victims are silenced by the administration and officials from their respective campuses.
Epifano believes the reason for this treatment is to protect the school. “Campuses try to protect their reputation. The more survivors you have come forward, the worse your campus looks,” she said.
Epifano added the Amherst administration tried to convince her that she was insane and attempted to silence her.
Epifano’s is not the only case from Amherst. Many other students have come forward, revealing that Amherst has tried to keep many students quiet in the past few years. “I thought I was the only one but it turns out there were a lot more students that were silenced.”
This kind of treatment is occurring at many other prestigious universities. According to a study conducted in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Education, some of the colleges with the highest rape rates are Harvard, Amherst, Howard and Michigan State.
The universities’ offices refused to comment.
Raúl Sánchez, the senior director for Title IX and Risk Management of Stony Brook University, believes the universities are protecting the students.
“Rape is under-reported because there are many times the victim does not want to be noticed,” Sánchez said. “Colleges don’t have an interest to cover up, but rather they have an interest in keeping students safe, especially from crimes as shocking as rape, so that students can be at ease.”
When higher education institutions do not assist students in such situations, many other organizations step up to lend a helping hand. One of the most influential groups in the country is the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
“60 percent of sexual assaults on a campus go unreported, and it is steadily increasing according to surveys conducted by RAINN, as of 2012,” Megan Erhardt, communications manager for RAINN, said. “Some universities do not do anything at all because they are more concerned with their image rather than student safety.”
According to Erhardt, RAINN is taking more steps to involve itself with more universities across the country to increase awareness.
Some Stony Brook students do not have a problem with how schools are handling these issues. “It seems like colleges have things under control” Prabath Yeturu, a junior at Stony Brook, said. “I never hear anything from the Ivy Leagues about frequent cases of rape so I assumed that they had everything under control.”
However, when Cathy Rico, a resident assistant at Stony Brook, was informed of this, she merely said “it’s plainly a bummer, but that’s how it is.”
Rico continued, saying that “it’s up to us to at least make students more aware of this issue because it happens in every college whether they make it known or not.”
Students like Rico are happy that Stony Brook’s Center for Prevention and Outreach works hard to keep students well aware of these happenings. Christine Szaraz, a counselor for CPO, sees an importance in awareness and transparency but believes the most important thing is to make a victim know that they are not alone.
“Rape and other forms of sexual violence are public health issues” Szaraz said. “Harassment and more egregious forms of violence often occur because people allow inappropriate, hostile, threatening or intimidating perpetrator behavior to go unaddressed.”
She wants to show that Stony Brook takes these things seriously and will support and protect victims and survivors.
Epifano remembered an important lesson that helped her. “It may seem endless and painful, but there will be that moment that will come when you feel true happiness” she said as she smiled. “Just continue to live for the moment at hand, not dwell in the past.”