Sexual Violence in Burlington

Burlington is a safe town – or at least that’s how most of the UVM students seem to feel. Sure, there are a good amount of crazies wandering around Church Street, but the most involvement the average student will have with one will involve either being lectured about conspiracy theories or asked for drugs. Students, men and women alike, frequently walk around downtown alone, regardless of the time of day. We believe that we are safe in this town, and most of the time we are. The crime rates for the city of Burlington are extremely low, but incidents do occur. Recently, the talk of the campus has been the rape and murder of a young woman whose body was found in a car on nearby Hyde Street. The murderer is currently in police custody, but they have not been able to find a prior connection between the murderer and the murdered. This incident was seemingly random. Not long after this tragic event, three males in front of the Living & Learning complex on the Athletic Campus grabbed a female student. She escaped without any serious physical injury, but the incident was reported to the campus police, and a campus alert was sent out to all students. The culprit has not been found, as of yet. Unfortunately, this is the kind of incident that does occur in otherwise safe Burlington, and occurs often. Campus alerts are sent out for any incident that is reported to campus police and is considered to be a big enough deal that students need to know. Generally, they involve a possible threat to students. There have been seven campus alerts in the 2004-2005 school year. One of these involves a suspicious male seen peering into windows of the residence hall; another involves a robbery that occurred in Stafford Hall.

All the rest of the campus alerts have to do with women being sexually harassed or assaulted by a male offender – these are also the only campus alerts issued during this past school year that involve any physical threat to a person.

Any violence in Burlington, and specifically on the UVM campus, seems to be towards women, and most of it, statistically, is sexual assault. In an otherwise fairly violence-free town, women have been singled out to bear the brunt of violent crimes. This is not only a problem in Burlington – women are subjected to sexual and otherwise physical violence all over the world. According to the National Victim Center, 1.3 women are raped each minute in the United States. Burlington is a singular case not because women are raped, assaulted, and injured, but because it is only women, and rarely men, who suffer injury and indignity. According to the 2004-2005 UVM Security Report, which includes statistics from the three years previous, there have been zero murders on campus over the past three years, and four aggravated assaults, which implies a remarkably safe campus.

There have also been, however, eight forcible rapes and 23 cases of sexual assault on campus property (There were 11 sexual assaults in 2003, 12 in 2002, and none in 2001. This discrepancy between 2002/2003 and 2001 is unexplained). The crime statistics only account for rapes reported to campus police. Most rapes go unreported to authorities. The Women’s Rape Crisis Center is a Burlington counseling center for women who have been sexually assaulted in any way. The Crisis Center reports that they have, between July 2003 and June 2004 alone, provided services to 431 survivors of any kind of sexual assault, including rape, and their loved ones. 84% of these were women, while 16% were men. On a national scale, 35 out of every 1,000 female college students are raped, and fewer than 5% of these rapes are ever reported, according to “The Sexual Victimization of College Women” published by the U.S. Dept. of Justice in December 2000. This is just as true of UVM as it is of any other university, and yet the rates of all other types of violence at UVM are lower than the majority of schools in the U.S. How has UVM somehow become an incredibly safe place for men and remained a dangerous place for women? Somehow, we as Americans have become desensitized to this gender-based violence – it is no shock to hear that a woman is grabbed or harassed or threatened sexually, we have come to expect it. More frightening, it is not simply that Americans have come to accept it; it is specifically that women have come to expect it.

Something is wrong when you grow up knowing that you are more likely then not to be sexually assaulted somehow at some point in your life, even if you live in a city as safe as Burlington. Yet this is how women in America live their lives. Sexual assault and rape are not only physically painful, they are also degrading and dehumanizing, and leave mental and emotional scars that last much longer than any physical scars. Sexually assaulting a woman takes away her humanity, reducing her to no more than an object – something to be played with and thrown away. The cruelest thing one person can do to another is take away their humanity. The situation is made worse by the way our society handles rape victims. Victims who should be treated with extra care are blamed, shamed, and ostracized. This probably explains much of why most rapes go unreported, and most rapists go unpunished. A progressive, liberal school like UVM ought to make an effort to create a better environment for victims of sexual assault and rape.

Institutions like the Women’s Rape Crisis Center are helpful, but many students report receiving less kind and accommodating treatment from the campus police and judicial administration, who are responsible for finding the offenders and punishing them. ; One UVM student, who would like to remain anonymous, was raped by a male student who lived in her dorm; she immediately reported the incident to the UVM authorities. The authorities told her they would take no action against the male, but the woman could change dorms if she wished. As a result, she no longer attends UVM. We should be very thankful that the incidence of violence in Burlington is so low, but also wary of becoming too comfortable. We have not eradicated the scourge of sexual violence as of yet, even in a town as peaceful as ours.