It Happened To Me: I Go To A College Famous For Its Sexual Assault Problem

I chose Chico State for its journalism program, pretty brick buildings and small town feel, and have stayed despite what the media calls our “sexual assault problem.”

Jan 17, 2013 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

I love my college, but there are some fucked-up people who live here. 

I chose Chico State for its journalism program, pretty brick buildings and small town feel, and have stayed despite what the media calls our “sexual assault problem.”

They’re right, of course. (Media usually is, apart from when it comes to celebrity break ups.)

Chico is plagued by its reputation as a party school thanks to Playboy’s 1987 ranking and our highly publicized discrepancies (alcohol-related deaths, hazing deaths in the past decade, our Greek system being shut down). And it’s what follows all of the students who go here even though we haven’t been named a Top 10 on most lists in years, have a top business school and are ranked as one of the best Cal State’s. 

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A few weeks after school started in September, local police sent all students a press release detailing the 10 sexual assaults that occurred in the last year –- none of which have been solved up to now. (One man, who is a sex registrant, was arrested and released on bail that same night.) All are within a few miles from campus, some didn’t result in sexual assault “probably because [the women] fought their attackers” (the release said), and others involve men dressing as police officers. 

Not all of the victims were students and some of the perpetrators probably don’t even live in Chico (we get a lot of crazies, especially on holiday weekends), but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out 10 sexual assaults x 0 suspects + more assaults = bad.

The first day I was up here -– a baby freshman in the dorms, not even 18 -– my RA told us about the rape trail: the pretty much empty path from the edge of campus to Nord that crosses over the train tracks. It was like the scene from Lion King, when Simba’s dad tells him not to go to the shadowy place. (When I moved to the other side of the trail for my sophomore year and had to walk it in the dark I’d be on the phone the entire time, almost having a panic attack every time someone got within 20 feet of me.)

My own experiences with harassment are tame compared to the girls who have been assaulted. The worst thing I’ve faced is having rocks thrown at my bike as my friend and I ventured into the Aves (admittedly the sketchier area of Chico housing) at night while they yelled at us to stop and “party” with them. 

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Call it paranoia, growing up sheltered, or the product of my mom letting me watch too many "Law & Order" episodes with her when I was a kid, but I refuse to walk alone at night. When it’s Daylight Savings Time and my classes get out at 6:30 p.m., I’m practically running home. I stay sober on the weekends to be able to shuttle my friends around because I don’t want them to walk by themselves or get drunk and wander away. 

I’ve heard more assault stories in my two and a half years here than my 17 years living in north Los Angeles –- a girl in my sorority who was walking with her boyfriend and two friends when a man tried to attack them and then beat her boyfriend with a crow bar; another who tearfully stood up at one of our meetings to remind us not to walk home alone because her friend had been kidnapped, zip tied, injected with drugs and assaulted; a girl in my class who had been pepper sprayed and barely got away from being raped and another who was punched and mugged by a man. 

Besides the press release that was sent out in September, I’ve heard nothing from the Chico Police. The newspapers will publish a story whenever there’s a new sexual assault but there’s always the same response from police: police are still searching and the investigation will continue.

I would say that every other week I’ll hear a story involving attempted assault or sexual assault. Every person I talk to knows someone who has been harassed or assaulted. 

There’s really no good way to realize you’re scared to live in a town you’re supposed to feel free in. College is the time when you’re suppose to be reckless, take chances, meet new people, and I get scared when I hear voices too close to my window. (I live on a busy downtown street in a room on the first floor with huge windows.) 

Our “rape trail” remains poorly lit and unmonitored, campus shuttle services are shut down and the program that’s supposed to teach sexual assault awareness and prevention to incoming freshman is a joke. 

The new program for shuttles, campus connection, tells students to wait by one of our blue light boxes placed around campus for a university police officer to pick you up on their rounds. When one of my co-workers called to find out when they would be by the particular box she was at, they told her they couldn’t help her, to wait right next to the box, and that she would need to flag down the officer to get his attention. She waited for half an hour before walking home. 

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How happy will I be when there’s no sexual assault on campus? THIS happy!

I’m so sick of hearing people say that girls need to travel in groups, not drink as much, not wait alone. Barring the fact that we need some serious anti-rape lessons for the men who live here, we also need  better programs for student safety -– like just bringing back a real shuttle service or funding pedi-cab rides.

I get it –- we’re in a recession and the university is strapped for cash. But when I see classrooms being filled with these weird pointless rolling chairs with built-in desks and we just finished a parking structure with the university police office built in, I wonder why we can’t find the money to set up something, anything to keep the students of the university safer.