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Rape On Campus: Painful Stories Cast Blame On Colleges

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Each week, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Angie Epifano was a freshman at Amherst College when she says she was raped by another student.

Weekend Edition reached her this week after a Harvard student anonymously detailed her own alleged sexual assault on campus in a piece for the Harvard Crimson.

That student writes: "I will be moving out of my House next semester, if only — quite literally — to save my life. ... My assailant will remain unpunished, and life on this campus will continue its course as if nothing had happened."

The letter went viral, and Harvard has announced it's creating a task force to evaluate the school's sexual assault policy.

Like that Harvard student, Epifano wrote about her experience, including Amherst's response, in a 2012 op-ed published in the student newspaper.

Three years ago, Epifano tells NPR's Rachel Martin, she was invited to watch a movie by someone she describes in her story as an acquaintance. Neither was drinking, she says, but she fell asleep during the movie.

"I wake up to basically cold air, and he was on top of me," Epifano says. "And it spiraled from there."

Epifano says afterward she lay there, curled up in a ball. In the morning she grabbed her clothes and left, telling herself she wouldn't think of the incident again.

"Unfortunately, that's not how rape works in your mind," she says. "It always comes back."

Nine months after the assault, at the suggestion of a friend, Epifano went to the school's sexual assault guidance counselor. That, she says, was the beginning of the end of her time at Amherst.

She started working on a photo project to help cope with her assault, but Epifano says it wasn't well received by her peers and was even mocked when she presented it. Upset, she went to see the counselor again.

"She said, 'That's how Amherst was, and that's how men will be,'" Epifano says. "And I just broke down."

Epifano went to see another guidance counselor, who started asking her about suicide and if she had ever intended to commit suicide. Epifano answered honestly and said, "Yes, I had thought about suicide."

The counselor then left, Epifano says, and returned a short time later with the head of the counseling center. They told her they'd called an ambulance and the police and that she was being taken to the local hospital for "suicidal intent."

Epifano was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital for five days.

When she returned to school shortly before the end of the semester, she put what amounted to a restraining order against her alleged assailant, just to make sure she could avoid him during those last few weeks.

Since then, Epifano says life has been up and down. It's very difficult to withdraw from college and attempt to transfer, and she says this is the unspoken problem of what happens to sexual assault survivors.

"Now that the Harvard letter has come out, and the reality of what's going on at these elite institutions becomes more and more clear, the options of where to go to school and still feel safe feel like they're just falling through your fingers," she says.

Epifano wrote about her experience after withdrawing from school. Her article prompted an immediate response from Amherst President Carolyn "Biddy" Martin, who promised to take action. NPR reached Martin this week for comment, and she offered this statement:

"Angie Epifano's account of her rape, her painful efforts to deal with it on her own, and her subsequent experiences when she sought help on campus are horrifying."

Martin also says the school has since made several changes, including hiring more counselors and staff trained to handle sexual misconduct and overhauling the judicial process for reviewing sexual assault reports.

Join Our Sunday Conversation

Should colleges be doing more to protect students from sexual assault? If so, what? Tell us what you think on the Weekend Edition Facebook page, or in the comments section below.

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