Beyond the numbers
Peter Moschella sat still with small pink ribbons tied to his tan loafers as his granddaughter spoke before an audience about the fifth annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in October.
Peter traveled from Boston to visit Elizabeth. This day meant a lot to her, so it meant a lot to him, too.
Elizabeth wore her purple, fluffy slippers and walked around the MLK Plaza they were comfortable
compared to the four-inch heels worn by the men around her who came to speak out against sexual violence.
To Elizabeth, being able to speak out and see others speak out was justice a concept often elusive for survivors of sexual battery.
Three days before she started college, Moschella attended a party at a friends house. A guy she thought was kind of cute gave her a glass of water, and she wondered if maybe she would get his number by the end of the night.
But the cuteness soon wore off.
It turned out the water he gave her was drugged, she said, and as she began to feel worse, he began to lead her to a room she didnt want to go to. He dragged her away into a room, in front of a roomful of people who did nothing, she said, and raped her.
When she regained consciousness, she left, she said. She was completely shattered.
But immediately after, Moschella wanted to put it behind her.
At the time, I said, What did I do wrong?, she said. Bad things happen to bad people, so what had I done wrong? I thought I was starting college and starting a new chapter of my life, so it took a couple
of months before it really hit.
She wondered what the social etiquette was for this. Was it OK to tell someone this had happened? No one had ever told her anything like it before.
Three months after the incident, she decided to tell three close friends.
When I finally opened up to them, they told me I deserved it, she said. They said, Didnt you know white shorts were target shorts? What did you expect? Werent you kind of flirting with him? You said you wanted to get his number, so what did you expect? It was not the reaction I was hoping for. At the time I thought they were right, I did deserve it. I blamed myself. I hated myself for everything that had happened to me.
Reporting it wasnt something she thought she should do at the time. She wanted to forget it.
* * *
According to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice, one in four college women have been the victims of rape or attempted rape.
At USF, two accounts of sexual battery were reported to University Police (UP) within three weeks at the beginning of this semester. Five accounts have been reported to UP this year. One was reported in 2011, nine were reported in 2010, one was reported in 2009 and three were reported in 2008.
Thirty-six accounts were reported to the Center for Victim Advocacy and violence prevention during the 2011-12 academic year and 40 the year before.
But at a university with 27,405 female students, according to USF InfoMart, the numbers reported dont add up.
Nanci Newton, director of the Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, said rape is an extremely underreported crime.
Underreporting of rape by college students is pretty much for the same reasons we see in any other population of rape victims, she said. In society there is a huge stigma about certain kinds of victimization, and rape is one of those kinds of victimizations that really evokes unfortunate, insensitive responses in a lot of people. Unfortunately in our society, rape victims are still pretty much blamed for having been victimized.
Sometimes the reporting process itself is difficult.
The wrong questions get asked by people in response to finding out about rape, Newton said. The first questions are typically, Well, what was the victim doing? or Where did this happen? or Did she know him or not? Why arent they saying, Why would someone do that to someone? Why is the attention drawn to the victim instead of whats going on with the offender? The spotlight is always pointed in the wrong direction, and most women know that. Rape is one of the few crimes where everything the victim does before, during and after is called into question. If somebody is robbed of their money or their house is broken into, theyre not questioned in that way.
Rape, Moschella said, is one of the few crimes in which victims often blame themselves.
UP Public Information Officer Lt. Charlotte Domingo said that a law enforcement perspective, reporting is helpful to identify the bad guy and put him in jail.
But reporting can sometimes be hard, she said.
It tends to be something most people dont want to talk about, and when you report to law enforcement, you have to answer questions about what happened, she said. Sometimes, more than once.
But even for those who report, defining justice is a difficult concept.
* * *
After UP finishes its investigation, the case is sent to the State Attorneys Office for prosecution. The victims are then re-interviewed and the investigation starts again.
Law enforcement must first initiate the investigation, Rita Peters, chief of Hillsborough State Attorneys sex crimes division, said. Their standard is much, much lower than mine.
Of the 15 cases filed with UP between 2008 and 2012, no criminal charges have been held against the suspected perpetrators of these crimes.
In seven cases, the State Attorneys office decided not to file charges because of insufficient evidence.
We have to be able to go forward with the full faith and belief that we can achieve a conviction and that we have enough evidence that we can prove a case beyond every reasonable doubt, Peters said. We review each case on an individual basis and see if we can sustain our burden of beyond a reasonable doubt.
But, according to police reports, each case varies in nature.
In some cases, drugs or alcohol were involved. In most cases, the victim knew her alleged perpetrator.
In some cases, victims clothes were collected and they were asked to go to a Nurse Examiner who could collect physical evidence from them a physically intrusive process.
Though there is no statute of limitation on reporting rape, it is only in the first 120 hours after the battery that physical evidence can be collected, Domingo said.
In one case, the victim invited a high school friend to her dorm. They kissed, but she wanted to stop there. The police report states the alleged perpetrator told her it would only take a minute and held her wrists down above her head before she was raped. The victim filed a police report about five months after the event.
The report states due to the time delay in reporting the crime there is no physical evidence available. The assistant state attorney stated the State Attorneys Office was not interested in filing charges, and the victim withdrew her complaint.
In another case, a USF student and fraternity brother invited his girlfriend to his room.
He masturbated and ejaculated on her face, then threw glitter in the color of his fraternity onto her face. He posted about it a few days later on Urban Dictionary with his initials, defining the incident as a way to degrade a girl. He told UP it was something he always wanted to do.
But when UP submitted it to the office of the State Attorney, because the state of Florida defines sexual battery as oral, anal or vaginal penetration by, or union with, the sexual organ of another or the anal or vaginal penetration of another by any other object, charges for sexual battery were deemed unfounded.
For simple battery charges, the statute of limitation had run out the victim filed a police report in September 2010, two years after the event. In the police report, she stated she felt compelled to report it after attending a Take Back the Night event on campus.
In another case, the victim awoke to find the accused, a friend of hers and a USF student, raping her. When she awoke, the police report states he jumped off and left the room. He texted her a sad face and wrote he was a horrible friend, the report said. The student agreed to 10 years of probation before the case went to trial. During that time, he may not leave the county and must report regularly to a probation officer.
Regardless of the case, Peters said the State Attorneys Office must sustain the burden of proof the same burden regardless of the nature of the crime.
It really depends on what is being alleged to have occurred if you have a stranger rape, or you have an acquaintance rape, or you have a rape involving drugs it depends on the factual circumstances, and we look for evidence to support the factual circumstances, she said. It depends on what the person who is sexually battered is claiming occurred and what were going to find. It depends on when they make the report or if they report right away.
Whether they claim if there was force used, and if there was force used, then are we going to find any genital trauma? Are we going to find any DNA? If they broke into a residence hall somehow, are we going to find any signs of forced entry? If theres a known suspect, is there going to be a confession, or is it just going to be an allegation of a he-said-she-said?
* * *
Sometimes, even if a student is not legally incriminated, they may face USF Code of Conduct violations.
While students can choose to directly report sexual battery or violence to the Office of Student Rights and
Responsibilities (OSSR), UP also can also report to the office.
If a student is arrested, Domingo said UP immediately reports. If further investigation is necessary, UP will refer the case after they establish cause for a code of conduct violation.
Winston Jones, OSSR director, said the investigation process involves meeting with both the victim and the accused.
We give the students an opportunity to accept responsibility, he said. If they come in and say I did it. Yes, I did, then we also give them a charge letter and a disposition with sanctions based on our precedent and the nature of the case. If they dont accept responsibility, theyre given the right to a hearing. Then we schedule a hearing, the case is presented and a decision is made by the board (whether the accused) is responsible or not responsible for any an all charges.
From 2007 to 2012, the OSSR has found three of the five students it has evaluated responsible for code of conduct violations pertaining to sexual battery or rape.
While the sanctions imposed vary by case, particular sanctions are exempt from public record because of FERPA laws protecting information pertaining to students educational records.
Jones said the sanctions often include suspension or above.
According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, degree records did not exist for many of the alleged perpetrators. Some still attend USF, and some graduated. According to a Tampa Bay Times report, the student who agreed to 10 years of probation was suspended. Clearinghouse data states that he last attended USF in December 2009 .
Justice for victims of rape, Jones said, was something difficult to define.
I dont know that I could answer that question, he said. When you use a word like justice, it has a lot of implications that are far beyond.
But Jones said the OSSRs role is not only to decide whether the accused are guilty or not, but also to help survivors.
Reporting is important because it helps that silence wont be a tool to those who perpetrate these kind of crimes on people, he said. Theres a lot of confusion around this issue, and students sometimes, for many reasons, dont report. We want them to know that this is a place. Its not just about finding out who did it, but to help them manage their journey through this process.
* * *
For those who dont report, justice can be even more difficult to define.
Being victimized is an extremely powerless experience, Newton said. When you are sexually violated, then your body is controlled by someone else, and from the victims standpoint it feels like your mind is being controlled by someone else as well. We want to restore power and control back to the victim as quickly a possible. For that reason, we want to work to ensure the victims wishes are taken into account and are heard.
Sometimes, that means not reporting to police.
If a victim chooses to report, then were going to let the victim know what that is going to be like what the processes are, what the investigative processes are, what the process of evidence collection from a victim of rapes body is so that the victim can make an informed choice about what the victim does or doesnt want to do, Newton said.
For Moschella, the process of seeking justice has made her an advocate.
A few months after enrolling at USF, she chose sexual violence as a topic for a project in her class. She learned about on-campus organizations like N.I.T.E., which co-hosts the annual Walk a Mile event along with other events to raise awareness about sexual violence on campus. She became actively involved and is now vice president.
It took her a few months to tell her immediate family. She recently told her extended family. Theyve been extremely supportive, she said.
Peter Moschella said hes extremely proud of Elizabeth for what she does in all aspects of her life.
Though it has been a journey, Moschella, now a junior, said she has found her justice.
Justice is in speaking out to large audiences, like the one she spoke to in October. Justice is in using her name.
Justice is in knowing that by sharing her story, others will be emboldened and not let silence be a tool, she said.
As a criminology major, its very hard to define justice. Justice is a very broad construct that we as a society create, she said. We assume that if hes arrested and thrown in jail, then its justice. But as a survivor, its a little different.
For me, it comes from the fact that by getting involved and promoting awareness, by getting people involved and using my voice wherever I can, I just hope hell hear my message and know that he did not defeat me. Eventually, I will get justice, (even if) its just him knowing, I didnt get that girl. I thought I did. Look at her now. Shes so much stronger than she ever was before. Thats my justice. He did not break me. The fact that I was even able to find my voice that I thought had been taken from me. ... I am not a victim, I am indeed a survivor.
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