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.