Morgan was a bright-eyed 18-year-old when it happened.
At a party her freshman year at the University of Central Florida, she “got really drunk.” A guy she knew said he needed to talk to her, took her into a room, held her down and raped her.
One of his fraternity brothers heard her screams and came to help.
“I told one of the senior members of my sorority what happened, and she told me to keep quiet because Greek life didn’t need that kind of negative press,” she said.
Morgan, now 23, said the experience changed her life.
“I never spoke up, blamed myself and sunk into a deep depression,” she said.
Morgan entered her sorority excited at the prospect of sisterhood. She left as a statistic.
There are 32,000 undergraduate students enrolled at UF. More than 17,600 are women. Chances are, 4,400 have been or will be raped by the time they graduate, according to Geoffrey Lee, a psychologist at the University of Florida Counseling & Wellness Center.
One in four women will be raped while attending college, and the vast majority will not report the attack.
About a year ago in Steubenville, Ohio, a 16-year-old girl was raped by two high school football players. Photos and videos of the assault were disseminated online.
Later, a CNN correspondent drew criticism after seemingly sympathizing with the rapists.
In the hazy light of the Steubenville case, the term “rape culture” is reverberating through the nation’s vocabulary.
“The issue is the crime,” said Laura Templeton, a victim advocate for University Police. “Not what happened. Not what you were wearing, what you were drinking, what you were smoking. That should not be the focus.”
In college towns, rape thrives on a culture fueled by binge drinking. Templeton said 75 percent of cases involve alcohol.
Molly Ryan, a 22-year-old UF women’s studies alumna, was sitting on her porch in October when neighbors told her a woman was lying naked, covered in blood next to a Dumpster on Fourth Avenue.
Ryan found her screaming hysterically, surrounded by people. One had draped a sheet over her.
“Her face was completely pounded in,” Ryan said. “Her lip was the size of a golf ball.”
Ryan cradled the bleeding woman in her arms until the police arrived. When they did, she said they asked Ryan to step away because she wasn’t family.
Instead of asking the woman what happened, their first questions were: What’s your name? What’s your address? Do you have your license on you?
Ryan said the woman kept repeating, “He raped me.”
She added that instead of recognizing the woman’s screams as a reaction to trauma, “He radioed, ‘Possible intoxication.’”
She said the officers seemed more concerned that Ryan’s shirt was bloody than that a rape and robbery had occurred in broad daylight.
Gainesville Police Spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said he could not comment about this case specifically but that all officers receive extensive training on how to deal with victims of sexual assault. The training begins during their education at the police academy and continues throughout their careers.
“We understand that these are very delicate situations for everyone involved,” Tobias said. “We make sure the victim is as comfortable as they can possibly be to minimize the trauma.”
Gainesville Police’s General Order 40.1, which provides protocol for sexual battery investigations, directs officers to “attempt to gain the victim’s trust and confidence by showing understanding, patience and respect for personal dignity.”
Ryan said the evidence of rape culture lay not just in the officers’ actions but in the victim’s response.
“The woman kept screaming, ‘Don’t tell my dad!’ She had already internalized shame and blame for the assault.”
One of the biggest causes of rape and rape culture is a lack of space to discuss it, Ryan said.
“I think a lot of guys don’t understand what rape is,” she said. “They see drunk girls and think it’s an invitation. Why aren’t we teaching people not to rape?”
Deanna Pinzon, a 22-year-old UF English senior with a women’s studies minor, agreed.
“At Preview, the first thing they tell you is that you should take their RAD [rape aggression defense] class,” she said. “Instead of telling men that they shouldn’t rape women and explaining the signs that a woman is unable to give proper consent, they just tell women how to protect themselves.”
Pinzon and Ryan said they believe there’s a need to educate men on the definitions of rape and consent. Both also said rape culture is placing the blame on women.
Erica Rodriguez Merrell, co-owner of Wild Iris Books, said her store opened in the 1970s “when women didn’t really have a place to gather.” The store is now a safe haven.
Merrell said Gainesville needs more safe arenas to change the dialogue from one that feeds rape culture to one that diffuses it.
“The first thing we need to do is stop with the victim blaming,” she said, “so that young women are not afraid to come forward because of the way they’re going to be put on trial.”
Ryan, Pinzon and Merrell said they believe prevention starts with open discussions and education.
“You know, whistles and blue lights on campus, I don’t know how well any of that works until we really start decomposing these frameworks around sex and start having some healthy conversations,” Merrell said.
“You need to be telling men that they can’t touch a woman unless a woman wants to be touched,” Pinzon said.
A version of this story ran on page 3 on 9/4/2013 under the headline "National, local rape culture calls for change in conversation." Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series.