October 24, 2013
On October 17, 2012, former Amherst College student Angie Epifano published a jarring account of her rape and the college’s response to her case in the Amherst Student and on the newspaper’s companion website. Epifano delivered a talk in the chapel this Monday, almost a year after the publication of her piece. In the Womyn’s Center-sponsored lecture, she discussed the widespread response to her article and the need for reform in the way colleges handle rape cases.
She began by examining the question of why her account of sexual assault went viral. “It wasn’t my story,” said Epifano. It was a detailed, empathetic and thoughtful account that related to hundreds of thousands of survivors across the country. One of every four women and one out of every seven men are sexually assaulted during their college careers, and a vast majority of these incidents are never documented. Epifano also said that 97 percent of sexual assaulters never spend a day in jail. Sexual assault survivors found a spokesperson in Epifano, whose letter portrayed the internal dialogue of a sexual assault survivor.
First there was denial, then self-questioning, then sham. “I thought it was my fault...that I must be a slut” said Epifano, who said she experienced panic attacks in th emonths following the rape. She felt isolated. “I didn’t realize that it [rape] happened to other people,” or that her rapist had raped other girls.
Amherst’s Judicial Action Councill expressed doubt about her case, especially because she did not have a rape kit. She described a UNC student’s experience, in which administrators told her, “Rape is like football, and you’re the quarterback. Ask yourself: What would you have done differently?” and asked the audience, “Can you handle being told by the school that you’re lying about your rape?’
The Judicial Action Board asked Epifano about her intoxication level (she was sober) during the rape and how well acquainted she was with her rapist. She had the impression that had she given one “incorrect” answer, the administration would have dismissed her case entirely.
Not only did Epifano describe the administration’s apathetic perspective on sexual assault, she also detailed the school’s trivializing advice to girls on how to avoid rape. An all-campus email told first year girls to hide in their rooms during Reunions because the alumni had not been “getting any at bars” in the real world.
Epifano described how the media has also trivialized what rape is “supposed” to look like on college campuses. She described how Katie Couric, when organizing a news segment examining sexual assault on college campuses, only looked for girls raped by Division 1 athletes. Epifano was not raped by an athlete or a frat member. The issue is not what organizations a man is involved with, but rather, a culture that appropriates rape as boys being boys and girls being “sluts.” Misconceptions about what a “typical” rape looks like prevent survivors from coming forward because these misconceptions invalidate their experiences.
Epifano works with the organization Know Your Nine, which seeks to educate women about the rights that they have under the Title IX section of the 1972 Education Amendments. She shared some of these rights in her speech. Title IX protects against sex discrimination in any organization funded by the government, thus including colleges. It gives survivors of sexual assault the right to a timely investigation and support system both of which are often denied and obscured by these institutions.
Despite the difficult material covered, the conclusion of Epifano’s speech was optimistic.
“The rapists win if we think we’re alone” she said. Uniting survivors and opening up discourse around sexual violence lessens the isolating effects of rape and provides suriviors with an opportunity to heal.