A student was raped in a wooded area near campus, less than a mile from where I live and a few yards away from one of the buildings where I frequent for most of my classes.
I pass by that grove several times a day — on my way home, on a run, to get coffee, or to buy groceries. Often, I have stumbled past there with friends during the dead of night, on our way back from a party on the edge of campus — where the classroom buildings give way to apartments, restaurants, and shops. An ex-boyfriend used to live in a house down the street from the grove. He and his roommates never locked their doors because it was a safe neighborhood.
It is supposed to be a safe neighborhood.
When I found out about the rape, my blood froze.
It occurred right after 11pm. On that particular night, the roads had iced over. The sudden snowfall caught my Southern city unprepared, and no one could drive — not if they wanted to stay safe. I needed sundries, and I thought about walking to the drugstore a little ways off campus to pick up items that would last me for the rest of the storm.
Around 10:15 at night, I told my roommates that I was going to head out to pick up groceries. I needed cans of microwavable soup and boxes of Easy Mac — the only foodstuffs I can reasonably cook without accidentally burning myself or setting off the fire alarm in my house. I texted a friend that I hadn’t seen in days, asking if I could stop by her place to say hi on my way back from the drugstore.
She lives right next to the grove where the rape occurred — well, a few houses down, to be exact. It takes me about 15 minutes to walk to that drugstore regularly — probably about 25 or 30 in the inclement weather. By the time I would’ve gotten there, finished purchasing my groceries, left, and headed to her apartment, it would’ve been a little past 11.
I strapped on my boots and buttoned my winter coat. I opened the door and stepped outside. There was snow as far as my eye could see. For a girl who had lived in New Orleans most of her life and hadn’t experienced a “real” winter in over a decade, this was a thrill.
As I made it halfway down the pathway in front of my house — inching slowly so that I didn’t slip and fall on the ice — it began to sleet. Little balls of ice hit me in the face like missiles. It was pitch-black, and there wasn’t a single other soul in sight. There was no way I was going to make it out to the drugstore. I was too lazy to navigate this kind of weather, and my bed seemed far more tempting.
“Sorry, I’ll come visit tomorrow,” I texted my friend, turning around to head back inside.
The next morning, I checked my email — a daily ritual, before I get out of bed. Amidst the usual junk — an advertisement for a free trip to Jamaica or a 50% off offer from a store I didn’t really like — there was a University-wide safety alert.
Someone had been raped near campus.
I immediately jumped out of bed and walked into the kitchen, where a few of my housemates sat around the counter, staring at their phones. I asked them if they had heard. They were in the process of reading that email alert themselves.
What rattled me the most was that this report was a sad reminder of just how capable people are of hurting others, of hurting strangers. The perpetrator, who fled the scene of the crime, is believed to be in his 50s. He is not a University student and likely is not affiliated with the community here. I am not sure whether or not that is scarier.
I am terrified because I trust those around me so deeply, even those I don’t know very well or don’t know at all. I believe in the kindness of strangers and have a difficult time grasping the fact that some people can act with no motivation other than malice, it seems. I know it’s naïve. I just want to believe that people are good, at heart. When I hear or read about violent crimes like this one, which hits so close to home, I remember that the world is less peachy than it should be.