Georgetown’s failure to address Friday’s reported rape is unacceptable

Editor’s Note: The following is personal commentary about the University’s treatment of last Friday’s reported rape. It should not be taken as objective coverage of the incident or the editorial position of the Voice as a whole.

Last Friday, a Georgetown student was reportedly raped in her residence on the 3500 block of O Street. So why haven’t we heard that from the University?

In the Metropolitan Police Department’s report, the crime is described as “non-consensual sexual intercourse.” That is rape. That is the dictionary definition of rape. Yet in the Department of Public Safety’s PSA that was posted yesterday, the incident is described only in the vaguest terms as “sexual assault.”

That catch-all term, sexual assault, can cover anything from unwanted touching to, as in this case, rape. There are no details in the entire PSA that convey that this reported incident was actually a rape. Unless you read our coverage, ABC’s or the Hoya‘s, you would have no idea what the extent of this crime was.

Furtermore, except for a line about MPD investigating the incident, the email sent out announcing the PSA is interchangeable with those sent out about less serious sexual assaults, such as the one announcing a PSA about a woman’s breast being fondled. There is no way to discern that this incident is on the far extreme of the spectrum of sexual assault.

While DPS does indeed need to be mindful of balancing the victim’s privacy with the larger community’s need to be informed about public safety threats, this level of obfuscation is detrimental. PSAs about less major sexual assaults—like groping and the “Cuddler” incidents—have included details of what happened. Whether it’s due to squeamishness or laziness, it’s bizarre and inappropriate that they decided to omit pertinent, necessary information when reporting this particularly serious case.

It’s also frustrating that it took DPS so long to send out any notification whatsoever about the incident. The crime occurred and was reported to MPD Friday morning, but the PSA was only released yesterday afternoon, a full five and a half days later.

MPD Spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump said on Tuesday evening that DPS had been notified about the incident, although she didn’t specify when (DPS Associate Director Joseph Smith declined to say when DPS was first notified of the assault). The victim also said on Tuesday that she had spoken to DPS that morning and expected a PSA to be sent out shortly. The fact that DPS allowed such a time lag when they already knew about the incident from both MPD and the victim herself is troubling.

Having a more prompt, informative PSA would be a step forward, but there’s still an unsettling silence from the University administration that should be addressed.

When there was a string of vandalism incidents involving the statues of the Blessed Mother and Jan Karski on Copley Lawn during spring semester, lengthy, frank messages to the community were sent out from administrators like Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Vice President for University Safety Rocco DelMonaco. The messages detailed what happened, the University’s response and emphasized Georgetown’s intolerance of such behavior.

This is not to underestimate the seriousness of those vandalism incidents or impugn the University’s response to them—the vandalism was deeply hurtful to many religious people and the openness from top administrators was very welcome—but it’s unsettling that University officials chose to respond to the defacing of physical objects but not a serious public safety threat, the reported rape of a student two blocks away from campus.

This is an incident students should be made aware of in more than just a formulaic, ambiguous PSA. University officials should clarify what happened, detail (as much as is possible given that this is an ongoing investigation) what steps are being taken to solve the case, and let us know what resources are out there in terms of self-defense and counseling.

University Spokesperson Andy Pino wrote in an email that he is not aware of any plans for officials to send out a community-wide message; Sargent Smith said the vandalism cases and this incident are “two totally separate cases with different dynamics.”

Smith is right, they are different cases. One was the vandalism of an object that, while offensive, was not a physical threat to anyone. The other was a violent, horrifying crime that poses an ongoing threat to the safety of all women in the Georgetown community.

It seems pretty damn clear to me which, if you had to chose, deserves a clear response from the administration. Their failure to provide a full, timely explanation of what happened to the community is unconscionable.

18 Comments on “Georgetown’s failure to address Friday’s reported rape is unacceptable

  1. This is 100 percent unacceptable. There is no way DOPS didn’t know about the incident when it happened- MPD was notified, and it is clearly an extremely serious subject, and it took place two blocks from the main gates, across the street from the Alumni House. The fact that they did not send a PSA out until yesterday is both ridiculous and irresponsible, considering the fact that anyone that HAD tips was more likely to remember them the day after the incident, or remember something suspicious, rather than five days later.
    If they claim that they did not report it because it did not take place in a Georgetown-owned property, the department needs to re-prioritize its values, and out the focus on Georgetown students and not their own jobs.

  2. Amen Juliana,

    This is a “totally separate” case that merits more of a response than a cookie cutter PSA.

    Honestly if I hadnt read the Voice and Hoya coverage I would have only thought it was another “cuddler” type assault, and not to say that those incidents are in any way acceptable – this incident is a completely different situation.

    Actually, the PSA was sandwiched in my mailbox between an MSB email about email and the Library’s newsletter – I could have easily missed it altogether. Completely unacceptable.

  3. I’m wary of jumping to conclusions without knowing all the details of the situation. I agree that DPS should have made the information available more quickly (although I understand they may have needed time to gather all the facts, but that shouldn’t take 5 days). But with only a one-sentence summary, I’m willing to give DPS the benefit of the doubt in their language, and certainly wouldn’t jump down their throats like this.

  4. I read the news here and was shocked at the University’s slowness to respond to such a serious case. Most people I know read the email and assumed it was another “Cuddler” incident… The general attitude toward this and the carelessness in notifying the Georgetown community is extremely upsetting.

  5. Juliana,

    I agree that DPS isn’t the most transparent in terms of crime reporting. But I don’t think that you are being fair to DPS. We don’t know the details of the incident, or the extent to which Georgetown was informed. We don’t know the specific circumstances of the crime, and contrary to all the claims about the cuddler, we don’t even know if the claims are related.

    We should also respect the victim’s right to privacy, since “we” can’t even begin to identify with the level of depression, despair, and yes, embarrassment, that results from rape. If you read the PSA fully, you’ll see that DPS didn’t report the assault until the student filed a report with DPS. Perhaps we should think less about ourselves (especially since we learned NOTHING from the PSA that is useful to ensuring our own future safety, since there were no signs of forced entry and we should already lock our doors anyway) and more about the victim’s right to privacy. Maybe she didn’t want to announce to Georgetown that she had been raped.

    Or maybe she wanted everyone to be informed. We just don’t know.

  6. To the previous commenter: As I said in the post, I absolutely feel that DPS needs to be mindful of respecting the victim’s right to privacy. However, I also think there is a way to inform the community without being insensitive to the victim, and it doesn’t seem to me like the University is making an effort to do that.

  7. “When there was a string of vandalism incidents involving the statues of the Blessed Mother and Jan Karski on Copley Lawn during spring semester, lengthy, frank messages to the community were sent out from administrators like Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Vice President for University Safety Rocco DelMonaco. The messages detailed what happened, the University’s response and emphasized Georgetown’s intolerance of such behavior.”

    I don’t believe that the word prompt could be used to describe the University’s response to the vandalism that occurred in Spring 2009.

    However, there is a bigger issue than comparing university responses in the present to those of the past. The student media has placed DPS in a no-win situation. Last spring, The Hoya criticized the university for leaving a variety of crimes unreported. This criticism could lead to an increased amount of bulletins, which leads to a “white noise” type of filter being placed on the e-mail blasts of the university. If they are going to report every crime, than people will start ignoring Georgetown blasts altogether.

    Kaplan stated that “the PSA was sandwiched in [his] mailbox between an MSB email about email and the Library’s newsletter – [he] could have easily missed it altogether”. If the university sent PSAs about major crimes only, then outrage exists when we find out that our campus has a larger crime problem then we thought.

  8. @Matt – good point. DPS is in a fairly difficult position, but I thought this incident merited more than just a vague PSA (or needed something in addition to one) – I would have probably been more likely to open an email from a GU Administrator.

    Reporting every crime would create a lot of white noise, but I thought this crime should have prompted a little more “noise” from the university – in the form of an email from Olson or DelMonaco letting people know what was going on, what steps are being taken to stop this from happening again – letting us know that this sort of thing is unacceptable in the Georgetown community. I guess I just wanted a little more reassurance that student safety is a priority.

    I dont know where the line can be drawn to distinguish what type of crimes are important enough to merit an increased response from the university – Matt’s right, that is a tough situation. Maybe “smaller” crimes could be lumped together into a weekly or biweekly email log, but “major” crimes (like this incident, armed robbery, etc…) necessitate an immediate response.

    Wherever you draw the line this crime should have absolutely warranted a little more response.

  9. What exactly should Georgetown report about this? I completely agree that it is awful (or at least appears to be awful). And it’s awful that it seems to have happened so close to campus and to a student. But there is very very little actual information, largely because the alleged victim has not given any details. So what can the University say? Is it useful to send out an email that says “A student reported to police that she was raped but could not provide any additional information and will not speak about it”? Or does that lead to a witch hunt where every single person on campus will be trying to figure out “Who was it?” And meanwhile, no valuable information was disseminated. So what good would come from the University spreading the lack of information that it has at this point?

    I do agree that it would have been appropriate and decent of the University to send out an email saying “There has been an alleged sexual assault at X address. Please be on alert for potential threats. Follow X, Y, and Z precautions.” But really, what more could the University have said about this, what with the overall lack of information? If there’s no description of a suspect, explanation for how he attacked, understanding of why he chose his victim, etc., etc….what can the University say that is valuable at this point?

  10. Tim: The University doesn’t need to (and in the interest of the victim’s privacy probably shouldn’t) share such detailed analysis of what happened, even if they do have it. What they should have done is made it clear to people who haven’t necessary read the MPD report what the nature of the sexual assault was. Saying someone was “sexually assaulted” is too vague.

    They also should have done something to differentiate the email announcing this PSA from the other emails they send out about PSAs for less serious sexual assaults. Also it would be nice to see something from administrators, not with the details of the case per say, but making clear the gravity of the case and letting students know about the resources available.

    Just because they don’t want to disclose (or don’t have) certain sensitive information, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way of addressing the incident.

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  12. Juliana,

    I share your outrage over the crime and agree completely that Georgetown students need to be made aware of the seriousness of the crimes that are committed in our backyard.

    However, I know that the university has a lot of constraints on it, both legal ones such as the Clery Act as well as ones imposed by students. Several years ago I seem to remember a group of Georgetown feminists working with the university administration (I assume the DRC) to get the university to adopt a policy changing all of its official language from “rape” and other terms to a blanket term, “sexual assault.” At the time I had misgivings about that change for exactly this reason, but a vocal group of feminist advocates (if I am remembering correctly) made a strong case to the university and brought a significant amount of public pressure onto the university to change its policy. I believe all this was covered in the Hoya (I’d check, but their site is still down). Now we are living with the results of that decision, which was foisted upon the university by the same student body now expressing outrage over precisely that policy.

    I think this is an excellent opportunity for Vox Populi to do some of its celebrated investigative journalism to dig up the history of what happened several years ago with that policy change as well as to clearly establish the guidelines of policies such as the Clery Act and the university’s internal guidlines on PSAs so that all students will know the policy environment the university operates in and we can judge it and hold it accountable more effectively.

    Thank you,

    Alum

  13. “especially since we learned NOTHING from the PSA that is useful to ensuring our own future safety, since there were no signs of forced entry and we should already lock our doors anyway”

    We should do a lot of things. We often don’t do them until some impressive incident reminds us why we should.

    The point is that this was a teachable moment. A man broke into a neighborhood home and raped a woman, with no forced entry. The university could have, without encroaching on her privacy, taken this opportunity to remind students precisely why it’s important to take precautions like this seriously.

    “If there’s no description of a suspect, explanation for how he attacked, understanding of why he chose his victim, etc., etc….what can the University say that is valuable at this point?”

    The suspect was not apprehended. The university could have, without encroaching on this woman’s privacy, informed students that a woman was raped in their neighborhood and that the suspect remains at large, potentially cruising that same neighborhood for other victims. The idea that DPS should only bother warning the neighborhood after deducing his MO is fairly ridiculous. How exactly would that look, if another woman — also unsuspecting — were raped the very next night, with no warning that an attacker had already and recently raped a woman in the area? And why would that woman trust the police ever again in her life?

    How is this not the responsible course of action?

  14. Alum, I’ll look into what you say about womens groups changing Georgetown’s reporting methods. Any idea what years this happened in?

    As for the Clery Act, this federal handbook on it distinguishes between rape and sexual assault. It also says there are no rules about what information to put in campus alerts, only that they have to be done.

    http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/handbook.pdf

  15. So I’m having trouble finding specific stuff about the changes I was referring to earlier, but here’s some more interesting stuff about Georgetown’s historic disclosure policies that I found in a Google search. Again, none of the Hoya’s stuff is online and that’s the main place that the stuff I was referring to would have been covered. This was I think around the 2003-2005 timeframe, I’m not sure how long the issue was discussed before the changes were made, but I remember there being a good amount of talk about them.

    http://tinyurl.com/na6gjf

    If this helps, I think that the changes primarily centered around the language in the Code of Student Conduct. I just ran a CTRL+F search in that document and rape doesn’t show up. It does however include a definition of sexual assault that includes sexual penetration.

    The university now parses it thusly: “sexual misconduct” as, it seems, less serious crimes, versus “sexual assault” as more serious. So, the term “sexual assault” is already the more serious of the university’s two definitions.

    So I think that the Code of Student Conduct used to refer to things like rape, but women’s groups pounced on the university and got it to adopt language that was I suppose more PC and less explicit. It seems like the university could have learned the lesson from that (very public) experience to be very careful in the terminology they use, and they may still be guarding their words and disclosure policies based on that.

  16. I consider myself a feminist, and I have never heard an argument against using the word “rape.” Why was it believed that it was better to use the phrase “sexual assault” in its place?

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