University failed in response to assault

Early Monday morning, one of our fellow students was raped on her way home from campus. A crime of this severity does not occur often within our seemingly secure Wash. U. bubble, making the University’s response all the more important.

However, Washington University delivered a seemingly rushed message that failed in its responsibilities. It is both troubling and disheartening that the University was unable to deliver a message that both communicated the serious dangers that were posed by the crime and that was sensitive to the survivor.

At 10:30 a.m., a University-wide crime alert and memo was e-mailed, informing the campus community of a sexual assault that occurred early that morning on Skinker Boulevard.

Our first concern with the alert was the use of the term ‘sexual assault.’ Broad in scope, sexual assault can refer to anything from inappropriate touching to sexual harassment to rape, which is specifically defined as forced penetration. After the announcement, many students questioned the nature of the crime and were unaware that their fellow student was raped.

While the University should not propagate fear, it is crucial that the campus know that a fellow community-member was raped. The community needs an accurate representation of the crime in order to take the appropriate safety precautions, and in circumstances like these, the University must work to ensure that the severity of the situation is reflected in the message it delivers. By deliberately choosing the term sexual assault, the University downplayed the dangers present in the areas around campus.

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Furthermore, the University implied that the student could have prevented her attack by using the Campus2Home shuttle. The alert failed to mention that shuttle service did not cover the area south of campus where the survivor was raped; service to that area promptly began Monday night. The administration should have been tactful in the composition of its message in order to ensure that it did not inadvertently place any blame on the survivor. Although the University’s intentions were certainly not to suggest that the victim was partially at fault for this attack, by listing safety precautions in the e-mail with the crime alert, it suggested that the student could have prevented the rape, when it was the attacker and only the attacker who committed this crime.

While people should be aware of effective safety measures and the Campus2Home shuttle service, this was not the place to mention University services or general precautions.

From the campus-wide alert, it is clear that the response was delivered in haste and the University placed its image over delivering an incisive and accurate message. The Washington University administration used the campus-wide alert system as a vehicle for public relations, sidestepping its appropriate use: a message system that sensitively communicates the dire seriousness of the situation to the campus. The first alert to students should have been a crime alert. A subsequent notification could have informed students of security servies offered on and around campus while maintaing proper distance from the facts surrounding the crime.

WUPD, Student Health Services, the administration and the new assistant director for community health and sexual assault services, who is set to begin in June, are vital aspects to the prevention and management of such crimes, but they need to separate public relations and the dissemination of advice on crime prevention and support from distribution of the cold, hard facts. This will assure that the University is seen as empathetic to the victim and is working to prevent these attacks in the future.

  • Sarah

    Let’s not forget that the community response to sexual assault has to focus on more than police patrols and blue lights. When thinking about prevention and safety, we must keep in mind that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults that affect Wash U students are committed on campus by acquaintances, often fellow students. Though survivors often choose not to report these incidents to any official body, they do take place. “1 in 4″ is not an exaggerated statistic, but is based on a survey of Wash U students a few years ago.

    I’m glad we will finally have a coordinator for sexual assault services, and that we have groups on campus like MORE, CORE, and SARAH working to end sexual violence and support survivors. But I hope everyone on campus, including Wash U administration, recognizes that one rape is too many, and that we can always do more to try to prevent and respond to sexual violence. This response has to start with putting blame firmly where it belongs: not on any survivor, but on perpetrators of sexual violence and on a culture that allows violence to happen.

    P.S. Can we please stop using this horrible event as a soapbox to complain about the U City police issue? This particular incident did not even take place within U City jurisdiction.

  • Graduating Student

    “i didn’t realize it was the university’s job to stop these occurrences from happening and control these sadistic individuals. it is my opinion that the university is responsible for keeping us informed.”

    If the rapes are occurring on and right next to campus, and to students, then it is 100% the responsibility of the university to stop these occurrences.

  • first poster

    “Yet, there are still robberies and rapes occurring every year.”

    graduating student…firstly, i’m actually a junior and have been around for several of those incidents. i didn’t realize it was the university’s job to stop these occurrences from happening and control these sadistic individuals. it is my opinion that the university is responsible for keeping us informed. certainly a level of prevention must be taken by the university to ensure our safety, but that should not allow us (or stud life) to blame the university for the actions of individuals outside the university community, who clearly don’t give a damn about our well being. i believe the university does care and and is constantly examining ways to keep us as safe as possible. when you get right down to it, this incidents hurt us all (university included). we should be responding in different ways other than criticism and blame toward an institution that does care about us!

  • Student

    I’m not exactly sure why the university is the only entity to blame. The university has certainly not done a perfect job in prevention of these crimes, but what is much more troubling is that rather than spending the time that it should be patrolling the area in order to aid in the prevention of these crimes the UCity Police Department is spending its time arresting people throwing parties. Maybe they should be diverting more resources to the real criminals in the area surrounding campus.

  • Graduating Student

    I completely disagree with the two above comments. I don’t know if you have been here for the past four years, but I have. In the past 4 years we have seen:

    A student get raped in her dorm room.
    A student get robbed at gunpoint on the 40.
    A student get robbed at gunpoint last night near Greenway.
    Another student last year got robbed at gunpoint near Greenway.
    A student get raped last week.
    A string of laptop robberies on the south 40.
    A murder next to campus on Forest Park.
    A murder of a cop on the loop.
    Countless break ins & robberies (both on the 40, wash ave, and waterman)

    Yet, there are still robberies and rapes occurring every year. Obviously, the school isn’t doing something right and someone needs to step up and say something about it. Installing blue lights and shuttles obviously isn’t sufficient.

  • Student

    absolutely agree with above poster. great response–well written and thought out, unlike the editorial. I truly wish that StudLife would stop trying to be controversial. This editorial does more victimizing during a time when the university should be coming together rather than playing a blame game. The university did a good job in properly responding to this heinous crime and informing students of ways to attempt to keep this as an isolated incident, as all humane people wish.

  • anonymous

    This article is very close to infuriating! It is ridiculous to focus blame and anger toward the administration when they are just as concerned as all students should be. Nowhere in the alert sent by the University does it say that the victim was at fault! The alert was hasty as it should have been to alert members of the community to an extremely disastrous incident. Since we’re playing the blame game, I would like to assess parts of this article and show how it completely diffuses concern for the victim, but instead undermines the University and demonstrates hypocrisy:

    “By deliberately choosing the term sexual assault, the University downplayed the dangers present in the areas around campus.”
    -If this is the case, take a look at the title of this piece. Why not say “University failed in response to rape”? Knowing that this is a forum piece, it is still ridiculous to claim that the University was “deliberate” in downplaying danger.

    “Furthermore, the University implied that the student could have prevented her attack by using the Campus2Home shuttle.”
    -The University it seems was trying to prevent FUTURE attacks by informing students of a service it provides. There was no blame, just advice.

    “While people should be aware of effective safety measures and the Campus2Home shuttle service, this was not the place to mention University services or general precautions.”
    -Where is the place to mention services? A separate e-mail? That is preposterous. If the University had sent an alert in one message and advice in a second, no doubt StudLife would have criticized the University for NOT adequately preparing students to dangers around campus.

    “it was the attacker and only the attacker who committed this crime.”
    -Agreed! So why in the world does StudLife find it ok to villainize the University. It seems that this article would suggest WashU does not care about its students.

    By blaming WashU for its response, StudLife diverges the anger we should feel towards a rapist onto a network that is actively trying to keep us safe and informed. I am very saddened by this article.