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  • Emilie Surrusco

One woman takes on Amherst College

The Amherst Student newspaper recently published an op-ed from a former student who was raped on campus. This student, Angie Epifano, details in painfully personal terms, how everyone from the school’s sexual assault counselor to a dean she was forced to meet with on a regular basis dismissed her account and blamed her for her ensuing psychological turmoil. The resulting Internet firestorm shows that Angie is far from alone. 

Seventeen years ago, I futilely tried to tell one administrator on my college campus about my rape and abuse. My abuser and I were living together in an off-campus apartment that was owned by our small liberal arts college in southern California. One rainy afternoon, accompanied by my abuser, I paid a visit to the dean of housing and asked him, my eyes red from crying, my voice low and soft, if I could move into an on-campus dorm. I need to live somewhere else, I remember saying. I vividly remember using the word “need.”

“You signed a contract,” he told me in an annoyed tone. That was it. There were no questions about why I needed to move. It was all a matter of the school protecting its assets.

Looking back, I can’t really fault him for his response. I never uttered the word rape or abuse. At that time, administrators in his position had no training on the issue. The only time it was acknowledged that sexual assault actually happened on our campus was when a fellow victim anonymously painted a mural on a campus walkway late one night, only to have it painted over with black paint by some likely perpetrators. A rally resulted, followed by a college-sanctioned meeting, and for a week I felt like I might not be alone, even as I saw my rapist holding a candle at the rally and standing near the door at the meeting — with his eyes focused intently on me as if to say, don’t you dare.

That spate of awareness didn’t last long, and even on my excessively liberal, open-minded college campus, the realities of sexual assault were swept back into the closet. I’m glad to see that through the courageous actions of women like Angie, now, 17 years later, those realities are being swept back into the sunlight. 

A key provision in the Violence Against Women Act, still languishing in Congress, would force colleges to do more to address an issue that impacts one out of every five college women. The SaVE Act, as this provision is called, requires schools to implement a recording process for dating violence, and most importantly, to report the findings. In addition, schools would be required to create plans to prevent this violence to begin with, and educate victims on their rights and the resources available. I for one, believe, that if I had known that there was help and resources available, that maybe, just maybe, I would have done something to secure some semblance of justice. 

However, the SaVE Act, is one of the provisions that House Republicans stripped out of their version VAWA — giving us one more reason why this critical piece of legislation, as approved by the Senate, must pass. It’s been 672 days since the last version of VAWA expired, so there is no time to waste. 

Meanwhile, women on college campuses across the country — and those of us who have been off those campuses for quite some time — must take power from Angie’s courage, come together and raise our voices to demand that no woman be forced to suffer in silence. 

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