Ashley still can’t sleep at night.
Last October, the UC Davis student turned 22 and celebrated her birthday with friends dancing at downtown bars. Ultimately, she found herself alone and drunk at 3 a.m., wandering outside her apartment complex about a mile north of campus.
The streets were quiet, apart from a big group of guys hanging around outside. Two of the men approached and insisted on escorting her home. She had never met them before, but they seemed harmless enough—just UC Davis students making small talk about their majors.
When they got to her apartment, one asked to use her restroom. She said no. He begged, pleaded. She opened the door. A few minutes later, she was sandwiched on her couch, paralyzed with fear.
Ashley says her mind shut down after her clothes came off. She remembers the pain, their laughter and, finally, how she cried when they left.
Now, despite reporting the sexual assault to the city police department and to the university, Ashley says she’s still fighting for justice. She says the police quickly closed her case—not much can be done without forensic evidence. Meanwhile, UC Davis took nearly eight months to finally wrap up her case in August.
“The process makes you feel like shit,” says Ashley—Ashley isn’t her real name; other victims’ names in this story have also been changed to protect their privacy.
“It’s traumatizing. You feel like you made a mistake by reporting it at all,” she says.
At UC Davis, Ashley’s story is not unique.
In July, The Washington Post gathered annual crime statistics—federally required record keeping through the Clery Act—from every U.S. college with at least 1,000 students from 2010-2012. It ranked the schools based on the number of reported on-campus sexual assaults. UC Davis ranked No. 5 with 60 “forcible sex offenses,” up there with Pennsylvania State University, Harvard University, University of Michigan and Ohio State University.
New Clery data came out earlier this month. UC Davis still has the most reported on-campus sexual assaults in the entire UC system. From 2011 to 2013, 66 assaults were reported at UC Davis, compared to a systemwide average of 34. At Sacramento State University, just six were reported on campus in that time frame.
Does UC Davis have a rape problem?
Members of the university administration don’t think so, and experts agree that a higher reporting rate is actually a good thing. Still, there are survivors like Ashley who say they’ve found the school’s internal process frustrating.
It’s a sentiment echoed across the country as students start speaking out about college rape culture. According to the widely-cited 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study conducted for the Department of Justice, one in five women experience sexual assault before graduation.
Now, politicians—from Gov. Jerry Brown to President Barack Obama—have started to take serious notice, launching public awareness campaigns and passing new laws aimed at preventing sexual assaults on college campuses. Changes are coming.
And the spotlight might soon glare on UC Davis. A group of students are discussing filing a federal complaint against the school for allegedly violating Title IX, the law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions, including public universities. Sarah Yang, a recent UC Davis graduate and activist, is gathering potential complainants.
“It’s the school’s duty to go through lengths to make sure its students are safe,” Yang says. “We have to show that the university won’t tolerate rape, even if the outside world does.”
This story was a finalist for the 2014 California Newspaper Publishers Association award for best investigative reporting.