October 28, 2014

Never too late

UChicago’s federally mandated Clery Act statistics show twice as many rapes reported on the Hyde Park campus in 2013 as in the previous year. But it’s still less than a dozen: 10 in 2013, up from five in 2011 and in 2012.

With over 13,000 students on campus, these doubled numbers are still minute. However, rape is not the anomaly that these reported rapes imply. Anonymous surveys show that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college. That translates to more than 100 women in each UChicago College graduating cohort. Why are the reported rapes so low?

When I tell people that, in 1979, a fellow first-year student raped me in my dorm room at the University of Chicago, the response is often the question, “Did you report the guy?” For decades, my answer was no. The night of the rape, I was high. The next morning, I just wanted to escape Chicago for the weekend. It frankly never occurred to me to tell anyone—certainly no one official.

My reaction is typical. Rape is a dramatically underreported crime. When the vast majority of people do not report the assaults they endure, their behavior is, by definition, normal. Rational. Survivors don’t report for myriad reasons. Some, like me, take time to come to terms with the violation. Others are scared or don’t think they can. Many fear retaliation or don’t think reporting matters.

Many don’t trust the institutions tasked with protecting them. Under Title IX, schools are obligated to investigate reports of sexual assault. UChicago may pursue disciplinary action against an assailant deemed a threat to the safety of the community even if the victim does not want to. Survivors can report without naming their assailants but the University’s investigation may reveal their assailants’ identities. And before reporting, survivors can check the confidentiality obligations of the UChicago faculty or staff to whom they want to talk.

It took me years to overcome my shame and acknowledge that a fellow student had raped me. By then, I didn’t think I could report the crime because the statute of limitations in Illinois was long past. But, there’s a difference between reporting a crime and pressing charges or—in the University setting—pursuing disciplinary action.

It turns out you can always report a crime to the University and to the police (and, at UChicago, there’s also no time limit on pursuing disciplinary action). When people asked, “Did you report?” I could have answered, “Not yet.” That’s because it’s never too late to report. And, depending on where the crime occurred, your report may also be included in the University’s Clery statistics. The Clery Act mandates that schools report the crimes that were reported in a given year, not the ones that occurred in that year.

Survivors report for myriad reasons. Some need to talk. Others don’t want to see their assailants in their dorm or in class. Some, like me, inadvertently report in the process of exploring disciplinary options. For many, reporting is the first step toward pursuing disciplinary action or pressing charges. Reporting sooner may yield better results, but survivors can benefit whenever they report.

I have a secret to share with you: One of the four rapes reported in UChicago dorms in 2012 is the one that happened in 1979, in my Upper Flint dorm room, 3418, in the now-demolished Woodward Court. When people ask me whether I reported, my answer is now: “Yes! I reported to the University, and I plan to report to the police.” To heal, I need to know I’ve done what I can to hold the man who raped me responsible for the felony he committed against me decades ago.

When I asked UChicago Title IX Coordinator Belinda Cortez Vazquez whether the university counted the rape I endured more than 30 years ago in its 2012 Clery Act statistics and she responded affirmatively, I was elated. UChicago officially recognized my experience!

The majority of rapes are not reported. For 33 years, the rape I endured was one of them. Assault is a crime of power, of overpowering and overriding a victim’s choice. The ability to report a crime is also power. Survivors have a choice, and recognizing that we do is, in itself, empowering and healing.

Michele Beaulieux is a college alumna (A.B. ’82).