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A Father's Journal / Defending against a parent's worst nightmare

Updated 7:33 am, Saturday, February 22, 2014
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This coming September, I will send my first-born daughter out into the world. She will start college. So I am very curious about articles reporting what happens on college campuses. Two weeks ago, an updated article about an alleged rape on one of the college campuses in town had me shaking.

I can not use the term "alleged" often enough, as no one has been convicted of anything. Last October, an 18-year-old female freshman met a young man at a party. They allegedly went to her room, and, according to police, "he held her down and raped her."

The alleged rapist then allegedly texted his friends, telling them all about it and added the tag line, "Ha, Ha."

I don't want to send my daughter to college.

I have to do more self-defense training with her. She is an athlete, but maybe we will bring her down to the karate school where both my younger daughter and I earned our black belts.

If girls have to go to self-defense classes to protect themselves, why shouldn't boys have to go to "how not to be a rapist" classes? Three days a week, young men should be taught how not to be a rapist.

I don't think any parents feel they have done enough to prepare their children for academic success, emotional and social maturity -- and now alleged rapists around every corner. I am sure the alleged victim's parents sent her off to college believing she would be safe on campus and within the borders of our town.

I don't know anything about the alleged victim except what I read in news reports about the alleged attack. But I imagine on freshman move-in day, the family drove to campus together, parents offering their child as much advice as they could cram in during the last few hours. After they brought her TV and new computer up the stairs, they might have said, "Enjoy. These are going to be the best years of your life." I imagine the girl waving to them as they drove off.

Less than two months later -- even before she could come home at Thanksgiving to tell her siblings how wonderful college life was -- her parents found themselves somberly but hurridly driving back to the campus.

The parents reportedly spent the next night in the young woman's dorm room, where, police said, they were awakened about 1:30 a.m. by the alleged rapist banging on the door.

I should have prepared my oldest sooner and done more homework myself. We have spent a few years looking at colleges, GPAs, SAT scores and graduation rates. But we never once looked at rapes on campus.

When I was in college, a friend of mine was raped. She wasn't a really close friend, but more than an acquaintance. I am not sure I handled it well. On the outside, I pretended to be supportive, but inside I didn't know what to do. Eventually she stopped hanging around with the social group I was in, and she dropped out of school. I did not follow up with her. Not my best moment. And yet now, I want the world to take this more seriously than I did all those decades ago. I want people to care for the selfish reason that my daughter will be going off to school.

News stories about the alleged Fairfield rape have forced my wife and me to look at the numbers -- at least the numbers we can find. Since rape is under-reported, and different studies produce different numbers, it is hard to figure out. Two numbers jump out at me.

An estimated 50 to 80 percent of rapes involve alcohol. Up to 90 percent of victims and their alleged attackers know each other. Colleges have both alcohol and familiarity.

Times have changed. Schools have Rape Prevention Weeks. Colleges have crisis centers and awareness months, yet we still have rapes. Our family visited 14 colleges before my oldest daughter applied to a single one. Most, if not all, of the campuses had a blue phone emergency contact system throughout the campuses to prevent/report assaults. I hope those phones work.

I want to have my daughter come home on her first Thanksgiving break telling us how great college life is.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.