Police Have Suspect in Campus Rapes, but Demonstrators Blame Sexism
URBANA, Ill. (AP) _ University of Illinois students, shaken by a series of rapes, are taking steps to protect themselves and to fight the sexism many blame for the attacks, student leaders and school officials say.
The attacks around the campus stopped when police identified a suspect, but students are labeling sexism a factor - a message underscored with a candlight march and rally Wednesday night.
″The message at the rally was that sexism is in our society and it is the cause of a lot of things that go wrong - rape, discrimination and women feeling low self-esteem,″ Jane Brouwer, president of the Panhellenic Council, said Thursday. The council represents about 3,500 sorority members on the 35,000-student campus and helped organize the demonstration.
″A lot of people just don’t think about sexism,″ Ms. Brouwer said.
About 500 students demonstrated Wednesday, carrying candles to draw attention to the role of sexism in the series of assaults that police attribute to a serial rapist.
″We have a suspect,″ Champaign Detective Gerald Schweighart said Thursday. ″He was identified just before the series of rapes stopped - around Sept. 10.″
Police are awaiting results of tests on the suspect’s blood and have made no arrest, Schweighart said.
Investigators believe about nine rapes have been committed by the same man since spring, said Schweighart.
The rally Wednesday united groups as diverse as the Panhellenic Council, the campus chapter of the NAACP and a political coalition, United Progressives.
The aim was to stress the role of sexism in society, from pin-up calendars and pornography to references to women in casual conversation, participants said.
″We need a general respect of men and women for each other,″ Ms. Brouwer said. ″If we are serious, we can make a change.′
Jenny Keller, a senior at the school majoring in political science who identified herself as a victim of rape, was one of the speakers at the rally.
″We’re not asking for pity ... we’re demanding respect ... for the strength it takes to go through this experience,″ said Ms. Keller. ″The vast majority of women are raped by friends, relatives, people who live in their dormitories.″
Petitions were circulated urging pay equity at the university, more education on the problems of sexism, and more emphasis on ensuring campus safety.
Participants also condemned campus traditions such as panty raids.
Jeff Jochims, president of the Interfraternity Council, acknowledged the fraternity system has not done a lot to fight sexism.
″We need to realize the Greek system has always had a problem with sexism,″ Jochims said at the rally. ″It’s ugly, but it’s a reality.″
He said members are working ″to change the image of fraternities.″
Mary Ellen O’Shaughnessey, assistant dean of students, said Thursday the demonstrators’ concerns are justified.
Sexism is not just a campus problem, she said, ″it is a cultural issue.″
Ms. O’Shaughnessey said her office has organized seminars on personal safety, and supervised programs providing women with whistles to use in sounding the alarm if they feel threatened and van service to avert the need for women to walk home alone from class or work at night. Emergency telephones also have been placed around campus.
Though not new, O’Shaughnessey said the programs seem to be attracting more interest now. She estimated the effort costs about $33,000 a year.
About 7,000 whistles have been distributed this year, about 1,000 women received van rides in a two-week period this fall and about 150 people have participated in the safety seminars, she said.
In addition, Jochims said fraternity members escort women on campus so they do not have to walk alone, and are preparing a program to patrol areas where attacks have occurred.