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Sexual Assault Survivors At Amherst College Speak Out With 'It Happens Here' Photo Series

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One of the images used in the photo series run by a blog called It Happens Here about sexual assaults at Amherst College. | Courtesy: It Happens Here Blog

Students at Amherst College have put pressure on administrators over how their school handles reports of sexual assaults, as several first-person accounts from students suggest they have ignored serious allegations. Jisoo Lee, Kinjal Patel, Sonum Dixit and Dana Bolger -- four Amherst students from various majors -- gave voice to their frustrations in a photo series.

For their photo project, the students photographed survivors holding large cards on which were written the disturbing responses of administrators, friends, peers, counselors or others.

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It Happens Here: Photos Of Men And Women Who Were Sexually Assaulted At Amherst College
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"We wanted to show that Angie [Epifano] was not alone in her mistreatment and abuse by college administrators," Lee, a senior at Amherst, told The Huffington Post. "But the administration's actions don't exist in a vacuum -- they exist in a larger culture in which too often, victims are silenced and perpetrators excused. We have to think about how we, as friends or peers of survivors, contribute to a culture of silence through our insensitive and thoughtless words."

Angie Epifano's first-person account of her sexual assault and the college's response shook the Massachusetts college town and sparked a movement to reform how victims are treated on campus. The column was shocking, in part, because 42 percent of women in college who are raped tell no one about the assault, and 95 percent of sexual assault victims never report the attack to authorities.

In a blog post, the series' founders note they were inspired by Project Unbreakable, a popular Tumblr with a similar purpose.

"Photos are visual and engaging, and they can be a powerful tool for documenting social injustice," Lee, said. "I think partly what made this project so powerful was that it was specific to Amherst College -- the survivors involved are our friends and peers, people we know, and the quotations are also from members of our community."

The young women behind the project see hope in how the administration has handled the problems on campus, particularly Amherst College President Biddy Martin.

"I'm encouraged by Biddy’s response," Bolger said. "She's been very quick in instituting a number of immediate changes. I’m confident that she will continue to work to improve survivors’ experiences here."

Caveats remain, Bolger added. The administration only started to take action after it received widespread negative media attention, she said, and "the changes can't be all top down. Amherst students need to examine the ways in which we perpetuate rape culture on campus."

Bolger suggested establishing a functional women's center and requiring classes on gender and sexuality issues as "two good places to start."

Amherst College has begun new efforts to improve its treatment of sexual assault victims. Other colleges in the region have also started auditing their own processes .

The images have been reposted with permission from the It Happens Here blog.

Clarification: Language has been added to the original post to indicate that the responses written on the cards were not limited to those of Amherst administrators and counselors.

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