Justice for Sexual Assault Victims

Amherst College needs to drastically change its policies around sexual assault

Angie Epifano sparked national discussion when she opened up about her rape and its aftermath.  Her account of the mishandling of her situation by administrators at Amherst College, her former school, raises serious concerns about rape on college campuses and the obstacles that often stand in the way of justice for sexual assault victims. Epifano’s case reveals a terrible callousness on the part of the Amherst administration, which appears to have had no interest in helping Epifano. Based upon the high number of women at Amherst who have since come forward with their own stories of sexual assault, this seems to be the university’s default way of dealing with such incidents.

In a piece published in the Amherst Student, Amherst College’s student newspaper, Epifano told of how she was raped during her freshman year. When she finally overcame her personal obstacles to reporting the crime, she was met with almost no support from the system, which reportedly told her that there was nothing to be done and that, although her rape could be reported as a statistic, pursuing charges was inadvisable.

It is tragic that Amherst’s administration handled Epifano’s sexual assault case so poorly. But it is doubly so considering the myriad of barriers that already stand between sexual assault victims and justice. It is all too common that victims feel uncomfortable reporting assault, be it from misplaced feelings of guilt and shame, fear that their story will not be believed, or fear of how they will be treated once their story has become public. The act of reporting is so traumatic for so many that simply dealing with an administrative system in and of itself can be emotionally difficult—even if the administrative system in place provides comprehensive support and resources and effective counseling for the victim. That Amherst added to these barriers its own dose of reckless incompetence is profoundly upsetting.

If victims of sexual assault do not have faith in the integrity of the system charged with handling the incident, it is likely that the rates of reportage will fall below their already low level. The ensuing sense of isolation will likely cause victims   to feel disempowered and abandoned.

College administrators should be held to a much higher standard than they currently are. The administrators at Amherst need to fundamentally change the way they deal with students so as to provide respectful support to victims in this already difficult process, rather than adding yet another series of obstacles to the situation. We hope to see Amherst drastically revise its policies to reflect the absolute importance of treating sexual assault victims respectfully, and that any college dealing with similar issues to revise their policies drastically as well. In the end, there’s so much stacked against victims of sexual assault, their school should never worsen the problem.