My friend Beth Adubato was raped in 1981 in her dorm room at the College of William and Mary after leaving a fraternity party. Her attacker, a popular athlete, insisted that the event was consensual and was believed by the administration and many students. He went unpunished, while she suffered a severe stress reaction and had to drop out of school.
Beth eventually completed her undergraduate education at Rutgers and went on to earn a Ph.D. in criminal justice there. This month, she testified about the rape at the National Summit on Campus Safety for College and University Presidents.
I asked Beth to discuss her experiences with the response to her story , both then and now.
How was your testimony received at the National Summit? Initially, the presidents and regents sat quietly -- intently listening. I gave all the events of the night, because I wanted to illustrate that the details of these events are worth investigating. As the story unfolded, there were gasps and sighs and even some tears. The gasps were the result of how the school administration handled the situation.
What do you think accounts for the difference in receptiveness? One main reason they were receptive is the change in vernacular since the eighties. We didn't have the term "acquaintance rape" (although my attacker was really more of a stranger). It took a long time for people to acknowledge that acquaintance rape exists, but there have been strides made.
You have taught Gender, Crime, and Justice at Rutgers. Do you talk about your personal experience in those classes? Do your students? The first time I taught Gender, Crime, and Justice, when we came to the section on date rape and acquaintance rape, I debated whether or not to tell my story. It's a tough call, because as a professor, you don't want to appear vulnerable in any way. Each semester, I judge whether or not telling my story, and only once I decided it would be.
My students have never opened up in class as a result, but many (every semester, in fact) students have come to me privately afterwards. Some students were able to get counseling because we spoke about it.
What differences, if any, in attitudes about rape and rape culture do you find among current students as opposed to the students of 1981? In 1981, another young woman told me the same guy had raped her, but she refused to tell the school administration. She was afraid of being ostracized (and she had good reason to believe she would be). I begged her to come forward -- not just to help us, but to prevent him from doing it agian to another woman. She wasn't able to bring herself to report it. I don't think this would be the case today; I believe today we would have been united.
You are the mother of a female college student. What advice do you give her about staying safe while maximizing academic and social experiences? I try very hard to stay away from victim blaming, so this is tricky territory. When I speak on this subject with my daughter and all her friends, I emphasize the buddy approach -- in all aspects. If you see your friend acting strangely or out of character, don't let her go off alone with a guy. If you hear of a frat house sending out a newsletter which basically outlines "how to rape a girl" (and yes, they exist) tell all your friends not to go to that party. And when a friend tells you she has been assaulted, encourage her to report a crime and seek counseling.