Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Imagine a place with a lot of violent crime. Whatever came to mind, it probably was not a college campus. But one kind of crime is all too common there: sexual assault.

NPR's investigative team collaborated with journalists at the Center for Public Integrity to examine how colleges and universities fail to protect women. And today, in the first of a two-part story, NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports on one woman who was sexually assaulted and her struggle for justice.

(Soundbite of footsteps)

JOSEPH SHAPIRO: In a house outside Chicago, a mother goes to her closet.

EVA: This is the little costume that Margaux would wear.

SHAPIRO: She pulls out a small red and white dress that was her daughter's favorite years ago when she was little.

MARGAUX: Yeah, I used to wear that all the time.

EVA: You loved this.

MARGAUX: Yeah. It's a cheerleading outfit, a little cheerleading dress from Indiana University, IU.

EVA: Yeah, she had to little - remember the little red and white pompoms?

MARGAUX: Yeah.

EVA: You used to - what was your little cheer?

MARGAUX: I don't know.

EVA: S-U-P-E-R.

MARGAUX: R, yeah. Super, super - that's what we are.

EVA: Yeah, that's what we used to do.

SHAPIRO: So when Margaux grew up and it came time to choose a college, there was pressure to choose Indiana University.

(Soundbite of classical music)

SHAPIRO: By then, Margaux was an accomplished cellist. And her mother, Eva, who'd been a student at Indiana herself, wanted her only child to take classes at Indiana's famous music school. Now that makes Eva feel guilty.

To protect the family's privacy, NPR agreed to use their first names. On a morning in April 2006, Eva was in her kitchen baking cookies. She was going to send them to Margaux, who was finishing her freshman year. Then the phone rang.

EVA: I'd never heard such a desperate, just a truly desperate sound in her voice. She was just sobbing hysterically. And she kept saying Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, over and over. And finally I said, Margaux, please, tell me what's wrong. What's wrong? And she said - she said, I've been raped.

MARGAUX: I was laying in my bed in my dorm. I had been out of control all week and crying and just laying in bed, crying, but it was like a wailing, loud cry. The girl next door would come by my room and be like, are you okay? Well, I don't - I'm not a big crier, so when I do cry, my parents know something's really wrong.

SHAPIRO: We're telling Margaux's story because what happened to her is fairly typical for the many women who are sexually assaulted on college campuses. Our investigation found that even the best-intentioned of schools are ill-equipped to investigate a criminal matter like rape and then punish it.

Margaux was assaulted after she'd gone out drinking with friends. Her friends dropped her off at her dormitory. She'd had so much to drink that she'd had to vomit.

MARGAUX: I think it was maybe 4 o'clock in the morning. And I can't find my keys in my own purse.

SHAPIRO: A man who lived down the hall, someone she knew, but not well, approached her.

MARGAUX: He comes over and finds the keys for me. And I'm hysterically crying. And it's - I look horrible, you know. My nose is running and everything. He finds the keys for me in my purse and opens my door for me with them and lets me in, and I remember feeling, like, oh, that's really nice of him. He's being a good person letting me into my room.

SHAPIRO: Margaux says that the man then raped her in her bed, as she passed in and out of consciousness. The man would say they had sex, but that it was consensual. NPR tried to contact him and his father, but they did not return our request for an interview. Officials at Indiana University also declined to be interviewed, citing student privacy laws.

It's estimated that alcohol is a factor in 50 to 90 percent of campus rapes.

MARGAUX: Being drunk did make a difference because I was, you know, when you're a girl and you're obviously drunk, you're putting a target on your back for a predator. So, yeah, it makes a huge difference. But what happened to me is still assault. I mean you can't - there's a reason that's in the law that, you know, a drunk person can't consent.

SHAPIRO: Every state in the country has sexual assault laws that say when a woman is drunk to the point of passing out, she can't give consent. But local prosecutors are reluctant to take campus sexual assault cases, especially when, as is common, there was drinking or there are few or no witnesses and it comes down largely to a woman's word against the man's.

Margaux's parents asked local police to prosecute. They said no. So Margaux, like most other women, was forced to rely on the campus justice system, and that's not a court of law. The campus discipline system doesn't enforce criminal laws. It considers offenses of college conduct codes.

Unlike criminal courts, college systems often lack the ability to collect evidence, interview subjects and call witnesses. This stunned Margaux's father, Michael. He's an entrepreneur and lawyer. And when he met with campus police, he found their approach too informal and too casual.

MICHAEL: The police officer that had handled the case discouraged me from getting an order of protection. He said that he had interviewed the assailant and put the fear in the assailant so that he would stay away from Margaux, which was not good enough.

SHAPIRO: Michael was surprised that campus police hadn't collected evidence or formally questioned the man accused of rape.

MICHAEL: The entire system seems to be designed to make the victim go away, to pretend that the crime or incident never occurred.

SHAPIRO: When women are sexually assaulted on campus, only five percent report it. That's according to research funded by the U.S. Department of Justice. Margaux was embarrassed and uncertain whether she wanted to press charges. Then, she got an important email.

MARGAUX: Hey, girl. This isn't the easiest thing in the world for me to do, but it's something that I've been meaning to talk to you about.

SHAPIRO: The message came from a woman who lived just a few rooms down the hall.

MARGAUX: He has come into my room on two occasions and has forced himself upon me both times. Both times were unwillingly on my part. He was drunk both times he came in. My door was unlocked, and he took the liberty of just walking in.

SHAPIRO: The woman said she'd been able to fight off the man both times. That's one reason she didn't report those incidents. It turned out campus police were already aware of the man, who was also a freshman. He'd been arrested and charged with a felony just a few weeks after he arrived on campus. He'd jumped into a fight and hit a male student so hard that the young man had crashed to the sidewalk and was taken to the hospital unconscious.

Margaux was scared of the man she accused of raping her. But she decided to ask the school to start a campus judicial hearing. She expected that hearing would determine the truth of what happened that night in her dorm room, and that the man she accused would get expelled.

MARGAUX: It was a pretty - I thought - pretty black-and-white case. And yeah, it should've been like, all right, game over. Can't do that. Throw the book at you.

SHAPIRO: But that hearing would not go as she had expected. Margaux would end up feeling she didn't get protection or justice. We'll hear that part of the story tomorrow.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: This is NPR.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: