Carrying candles and bearing protest signs, 30 George Washington University students marched around Foggy Bottom last week to "take back the night" for frightened women.
Chanting antirape slogans, the college women and men marched in the autumn chill to make "the strongest personal and group statement of our commitment to secure our neighborhood," according to a statement read by Mer Zovko, head of the university's rape awareness task force. The march capped a day-long educational program that included metropolitan police speakers and a self-defense karate demonstration at the university, which has been shocked by two rapes in two months.
Galvanized by recent reports of rapes on four area campuses, metropolitan Washington universities are stepping up efforts to prevent their students from becoming victims of sexual assault. Rape prevention seminars have been held on every major campus in the past two weeks. Fraternities are beginning to offer escort services for coeds on some campuses. Money is being allocated for increased lighting and security guards. And one university is even offering a $10,000 reward for help in the arrest of an armed rapist.
While the GW students were marching, Howard University women gathered at the student center on the same night as part of a rape crisis forum to hear from a senior who was raped on the Howard campus last year. Howard's most recent sexual assault occurred a month ago, following two attempted rapes in August.
"We have an all-out effort to attack the crime of rape," said Billy Norwood, Howard's director of security.
"We normally tell the girls the 'do's and don'ts' of how to prevent rape," Norwood explained. The frightening tale of an actual rape victim often brings tears to the eyes of young women attending the seminar, Norwood said.
But many Howard women still "have a very lax attitude" toward personal security, noted Darryl Fears, campus news editor of Howard's student newspaper, The Hilltop. Fears charged that universtiy officials are uncooperative in publicizing rape attempts in the campus area.
"There is a rape problem at Howard University," Fears declared. The Georgia Avenue campus is on the fringe of a high-crime area, he said. "We're in a very vulnerable area here."
To many of its women students, the conservative Catholic University in Northeast seemed invulnerable, until they were shocked into reality by the knifepoint rape of a coed in a campus dormitory. The mid-September incident traumatized both students and educators on Catholic's normally placid campus.
"A high percentage of them knew the young lady," said Catholic's security director, William Nork. "It happened in one of our dorms. They were appalled."
Catholic University officials announced last week they were offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the case. The D.C. police Crime Solvers program is adding another $1,000 to the fund. Catholic's board of directors also appropriated $400,000 for additional campus lighting and security guards. On-campus bus service has been doubled so women won't have to walk to their destinations at night.
Catholic University officials say "look -- this happened here," Nork observed. "It may happen again. . . . Let's do something about it."
At both Catholic and Howard universities, campus fraternities are volunteering escorts for coeds who must walk on campus at night.
Three weeks ago, a University of Maryland student walking to her car in parking lot number 1 at 5 p.m. was dragged out of sight between two cars and raped.
"It's the most major problem we have," stated the university's campus security chief, Eugene Sides. An incident of sexual assault "creates a great deal of fear, which you're not supposed to have in an academic setting."
A string of rapes in 1975 prompted university officials to beef up security and spend $500,000 for new lighting, Sides said. Campus police initiated an ongoing sexual assault prevention seminar, which has been presented 35 times since the school year began. The program features a film, "How to Say No to a Rapist and Survive."
Sides noted, however, that the three reported sexual assaults on the sprawling College Park campus this year are only a fraction of the hundreds of rapes that occur in Prince George's County each year. "We've done a lot of things to hopefully eradicate the problem," he said, "but it still remains."
Many college women are lulled into a false sense of security on campus, safety experts note. "I'm a college student and I know when I'm walking on campus, I feel safer than when I'm walking in the city," said Jo-El Wadsworth, an intern with the D.C. Rape Crisis Center. "Rapes still occur on campus," she said.
The two reported campus rapes in as many months clearly jolted the academic community at George Washington University. "We need to educate people about what precautions they have to take," commented assistant dean of sutdents Cheryl Beil. At the urging of a university task force, an entire day was devoted to rape awareness at GW last week.
As part of the program, the university's rape awareness task force sold shrill whistles for use as a deterrent against potential attackers.
"I'm going to hang it on my key chain," said whistle purchaser Diane Kupelian a 28-year-old undergraduate. "If anyone is following me, or looks suspicious, I'm going to blow my whistle." Kupelian said she had wanted to attend the march, "but I was afraid to walk down here at night."