Los Angeles — Despite the relatively low numbers of reported rapes on college campuses, the fear of rape has led significant changes in campus life. Unheard of just a few years ago, escort services and rape crisis centers now have become almost commonplace at many universities. The student-run escort services are a good first step toward students caring for one another, says James McGovern, executive director of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators Association (IACLEA). But such services get mixed reviews, because student volunteers are often unavailable when they're needed most.
In small, cramped quarters in the basement of a University of California at Los Angeles office building, the UCLA Rape Prevention Program director, Almut Poole, speaks of going a step beyond the escort services:
''An escort service is a protection service. The woman does not learn anything more about her abilities to protect herself by calling an escort,'' Ms. Poole says. ''She will feel safer when she is with an escort. But as soon as she's away from campus, out of the dorms, or home during vacation, there are no escorts. We want to empower women to have the maximum freedom and maximum safety , and limited protection does not increase a woman's freedom to move whenever and wherever she wants. It's very life-restricting.''
Ms. Poole wants women to get away from leaning on protection, but hastens to add that ''in the meantime, it's a valuable service. If a woman is afraid to go to her class and would deny herself access of education, we should have an escort service.''
''But we need to go beyond that,'' she said. ''The protection is based on the assumption that women are weak, helpless, and can't defend themselves, that they need outside protection. There's a great dependency on other people or devices - tear gas, or whatever is being peddled.
''Rape prevention programs have to go far beyond the minimization of fear, and look into the actual empowerment of women and offer those tools such as assertiveness and physical skills. If you can rely on yourself, you have some confidence and some freedom.''
''Ultimately, men need to be reached . . . and unless they change, we'll have it forever,'' she said. ''The short term, the protection, the escort services, are important. But the long-term means eradicating rape from society. And that comes through reeducation and changing attitudes.''