Many Campus Assault Victims Stay Quiet, or Fail to Get Help

Freshman Megan Wright was allegedly gang raped, and later committed suicide.

August 16, 2010, 12:09 PM

Sept. 6, 2010— -- As college students gear up once again to taste the sweet freedom of the college campus, there's one thing they're not likely not focusing on: the probability that one out of four female college students will be raped before receiving a diploma.

A recent study from the Department of Justice estimated that 25 percent of college women will be victims of rape or attempted rape before they graduate within a four-year college period, and that women between the ages of 16 to 24 will experience rape at a rate that's four times higher than the assault rate of all women.

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Such was seemingly the case of Megan Wright, a 19-year-old from New Jersey. Wright was wrapping up her freshman year in May 2006 at Dominican College, a small Catholic school in Orangeburg, N.Y., about an hour away from New York City, when she was allegedly gang raped on its campus. She committed suicide before the year ended.

Her mother, Cindy McGrath, is suing Dominican, claiming that the college failed to conduct a proper investigation into her daughter's assault, and thereby violated Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, which guarantees equal access to education.

The lawsuit also alleges that Dominican violated the law by not accurately disclosing the number of sexual assaults reported on its campus.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who has represented parties in several high-profile discrimination cases, is representing McGrath.

"A victim who reports a sexual assault to a college, which is receiving federal funds, has a right to expect, under the law, that that college will conduct a fair, thorough investigation," Allred said. "We take very seriously a college's duty, and we want it enforced, and when they violate it there are real consequences."

The Center for Public Integrity conducted a 12-month probe into sexual assault on college campuses that was completed earlier this year.

Why Rape Is Under-Reported

The investigation found that students will often keep quiet when they are sexually assaulted because they blame themselves for what happened, don't realize that what happened to them was a crime or fear that their assailants or others will strike again if they report them.

According to court documents, McGrath said her daughter made all the right decisions a rape victim should make in her situation. She told someone, had a rape kit performed and reported the crime to college authorities, but to no avail, McGrath said.

The first person Wright told was school friend Kelly Rocco.

The night after the alleged attack occurred, "She said that there was blood in her underwear," Rocco told "Nightline." "We got up and went to the hospital by my house. She had a rape kit [performed] and her face was just in so much pain as they were doing everything."

Wright then told her mother, who immediately rushed to the campus to be with her daughter.

"She broke down and said, 'Mom, I've been raped. I've been raped,'" McGrath said.

Surveillance video in the hallway of the residence hall where Wright claimed the attack happened later showed a disoriented, seemingly impaired Wright being led in and out of a room by several different men, some of whom were identified as students by authorities.

The Center for Public Integrity concluded in its report that "students found 'responsible' for alleged sexual assaults on campuses often face little or no punishment," and victims who do report these crimes run into "barriers" -- from counselors worried about privacy to universities concerned about their public image.

Mother and daughter reported the incident to the resident adviser and then to the dean but received little in the way of a response, according to McGrath.

"The dean offered her no accommodations. [My daughter] left her math final crying. She couldn't sit and take it," McGrath said.

According to court documents, McGrath claimed her daughter tried to meet with the president of the college as well, but they are still waiting for a response to their request

Shortly after the alleged assault, Wright fell into a deep depression.

Megan Wright Committed Suicide After Alleged Attack

Terrified that her attackers were still roaming free on campus, Wright dropped out of Dominican that fall. Then, in December 2006, Wright told her mother she was going to her room to take a nap, and later McGrath found her daughter dead with a plastic bag over her head.

"I put my hand on something really warm, and it was a plastic bag, and it was her head in the plastic bag," McGrath said through tears. "I started trying to give her mouth to mouth, and I kept trying to get her to wake up and I kept telling her, 'Don't go.'"

McGrath said that after her daughter's suicide, the college never sent condolences, or even sent a representative to her funeral.

Dominican College provided a statement to "Nightline" through its lawyer, saying that campus officials did conduct their own investigation immediately after Wright reported the incident. They said they gave Wright contacts for counseling services and offer ed her an opportunity to delay her final exams.

The college also said that while it was deeply saddened by Wright's death, it believes the court will find it acted appropriately.

If you are a college student and you believe you have been a victim of rape on campus, tell someone immediately.

Contact your local rape crisis center, victim advocacy legal organization or rape hotline to find out about your school's procedures. Often these organizations can be found through your campus police department or health services. You should also go to the hospital or local health clinic and have a rape kit, through which physical evidence is gathered, performed.

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act grants the right to equal access to education. If you believe your school has violated Title IX, or has failed to offer "an equitable policy on sexual assault prevention and response," you can file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education.

Parents Should Talk to Their Kids

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported in 2009 that alcohol is a contributing factor in 97,000 cases of sexual assault or date rape each year.

For parents who want to talk to their kids about excessive drinking, or for students who want to educate themselves on the dangers, the institute offers a comprehensive guide.

--ABC News' Lauren Effron contributed to this report.