This will not empower you.
Rape in the school system has been making headlines in almost every media outlet since the Steubenville rapists Trent Mays and Ma’Lik Richmond were found guilty of raping a drunk 16-year-old girl. The mainstream is finally taking a long, hard look at their attitudes toward consent and wondering aloud whether academic institutions are really giving justice in cases of sexual assault or just hushing allegations quietly, and before anyone important can hear.
Reno Saccoccia, Steubenville football coach, told Trent Mays that he “took care of” the allegations and joked about the incident to reassure his protégé. UNC’s former dean of students Melinda Manning, along with 4 UNC students, is suing UNC for pressuring her to underreport sexual assault cases. For the first time, people seem to be really listening to the horrible truth about rape and the American school system, so maybe it’s time for the world to hear a truth that’s been weighing on me for quite some time.
In the fall of 2008, I was 19 and just beginning sophomore year at Tulane University, that hallowed white brick institution located in the leafy and lovely Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana. Just three years earlier Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, leaving behind bodies in the place of people and molded lumber marked with a red x where homes used to be.
Tulane was an oasis away from it all, where children of the middle and upper classes went to learn economics and power point presentations but mostly to get really fucked up in a poor city with few laws and a seductive aura of anarchy.
Sophomore year began with anticipation and a freshly instituted caste system: the previous semester we had sorted according to looks or status or connection into the 6 sororities that dominated campus life. I pledged an upper-tier house populated by clever, rebellious brunettes from Manhattan.
We came to New Orleans after Katrina under the misconception that the prestigious university would shelter us from a city that ranked among the top 20 most dangerous cities in the world. We were wrong.
News reached in a whisper. “He raped her, then he broke her jaw.”
Now, when I think back about what happened, I can’t help but mentally repeat the statement: He broke her jaw. After he raped her, he tried to make sure she wouldn’t talk about it.
The university released a clipped, abrupt memo: "An unknown assailant raped and assaulted a 19 year old Tulane Student on September 28 on the 700 block of Freret Street." Except for this, there was very little ado about it all, really.
The news anchors muttered the incredibly specific and inscrutably vague details. Administration officials instructed us to walk in groups, limit our alcohol intake, and most of all stay inside after the sun set.
At first no one knew who the first victim was, but after a week or so word began to trickle it. She was both popular and admired for being the life of the party and kind to all on campus, big or small.
Then... nothing. We went to class, went to bars, went to sleep. If you’ve ever been somewhere where terrible just happened, you’re familiar with the sensation swirling over Tulane’s campus, an apprehension made up of day-to-day tedium and muffled horror.
The heads of each house strategized walking routes and each sorority designated drivers every night for sisters going to the bars, the library, or any off campus housing. Even our sadistic "Pledge Masters" piped at us, “You’re not going to get raped, OK? So don’t fucking try to make it on your own or take any chances. Don’t you fucking dare not call us. We will get you. Every. Time.”
After 3 weeks of waiting and coping and pretending it never happened, on October 19th, the unknown man attacked a Freshman at Tulane, first dragging her into the bushes and then raping her twice.
This happened outside the Tulane library and on the same block as his first rape. She was 18 and walking home from the goddamn library. As he finished with his latest victim, a pair of sorority sisters walking along Freret Street happened to see a rustling of clothes in the bushes. They chased the man to his car and recorded the license number of the dark green SUV he roared away in.
The Greek System took care of each other when we were in danger, and when no one else seemed to be. We were forced to defend ourselves in a world that tells, then shows women they will be prey.
The police didn’t catch that rapist. The university did not catch that rapist. That rapist stalked, beat, and repeatedly raped Tulane girls and it was girls of Tulane who caught him. Victor Ivan Perez Gonzalez, 33, was apprehended and convicted of two counts of forcible rape and one count of second degree kidnapping on September 10, 2010. Perez, a legal Nicaraguan immigrant, was sentenced to 40+ years in prison.
When his DNA results came back 3 months later, NOLA police made a shocking announcement: DNA evidence from previously untested rape kits also tied Perez to the 2007 rape of a woman in New Orleans French Quarter. If convicted, Perez will face a mandatory life sentence.
The New Orleans police department, like many American police departments, neglected to test 400+ unsolved rape kits which languish in storage for years while rapists like Perez brutally assault women just like you. If police cared about rape, they would investigate rape cases.
If Tulane cared about anyone’s safety, they would have policed the block where a friend’s jaw was broken 3 weeks before. Instead my school and my government left me to fend for myself, to travel in packs, to brace myself for the inevitable reality that as a woman in America I am a victim waiting to meet her fate. So are you.
These are the lessons I learned from Victor Perez:
1.There are people trying to hurt you.
2. Those people are close.
3. No one will protect you. Plan accordingly.
I offer this advice because this incident wasn’t the first. In July 2007, a male Tulane student raped a female student in the dorms. Studentactivism.com reported that an April 2008 hearing, noting “the panel behaved inappropriately and offensively."
Whereas they found her attacker guilty of sexual misconduct, the request for his expulsion was denied. Instead, he was banned from any kind of contact with the girl or from entering the dorms, and mandated that he seek counseling. No joke: Tulane doesn’t expel rapists; Tulane sends rapists to therapy and asks them very nicely if they please, oh please, wouldn’t bother their chosen victim again.
It happened before Perez, it happened after Perez. For us, life after the rapes was normal and we were back to our silent remembrance, never speaking of it. I remember trying to bring up the topic to friends or adults and feeling frustrated and silly when the subject was quickly changed. The message is very clear: It never happened. It doesn’t matter. It never did.
But it did happen and we do matter. We should not have to live like this. Rapes don’t just affect the victims, everyone is affected by this fear. The fear infects us because we know these people; they are our family and friends and they have always been afraid to act.
When I walk alone at night goosebumps stand up on my arm, even if it’s in the Hills and no one is around. Universities across the country are under-reporting, concealing, and suppressing the truth about campus rapes, putting money and status above the basic human rights of their female students.
Not being raped is a right. Control over our bodies is a right. Safety and walking to the library after school is our right. The Universities are smothering our rights and we are paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so.
It also happened after my time on campus: in May 2011, a female Tulane student was raped at gunpoint inside her home, near campus at Broadway and Freret Street. You’ll remember Freret street as the street my classmates were raped on by Perez; I remember Freret and Broadway as my old address. I found out this girl was raped inside the apartment I shared with three sorority sisters the year before.
We are being targeted. We are being hunted by an unknown assailant and to be hunted is a strange and terrible feeling.
I wonder why men keep raping the women around me. I wonder when a man will rape me. When I hear the sound of footsteps behind me I clutch the knife in my purse and wonder what will happen next and who is waiting just out of sight.
It’s happening. Right now. It matters.