Amy Vorenberg

I am Lucy.

In the early ’70s, a serial rapist attacked 44 girls in the Boston area. He could have been stopped.

(Christopher Serra for The Boston Globe)
By Amy Vorenberg
June 20, 2010

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Terrorism expert Jessica Stern’s new book “Denial’’ is a memoir of the 1973 rape of her sister and herself. By itself, the story of the dual rapes is horrendous, but it is more appalling because they were probably preventable.

Jessica and her sister were victims of a man who raped or attempted to rape at least 44 girls in the Boston area from 1970 to 1973.

I was number 12. In Jessica’s book, I am Lucy.

Shockingly, 18 of the 44 rapes occurred within an eight-block radius of Harvard’s Radcliffe campus in Cambridge, many at Radcliffe itself. Yet there was barely a whisper of these crimes in the media. Moreover, Harvard did little to inform its students and faculty, even though the rapist followed an obvious pattern. All the rapes occurred between 8:30 and 10:30 pm. All the victims were under the age of 19 and gave similar accounts of their attacker’s age, build, eyes, and hair. The rapist carried a small, white-handled gun and wore a ski mask. And he often chose a women’s dormitory or a house where several girls lived.

I was 13 in 1971 and lived just a few blocks from the Radcliffe quadrangle. Our house was always full of visitors, so it was no surprise that on an unseasonably warm March night there were 11 people at my home. What we didn’t know, as we sat and talked in our kitchen, was that a lone man had been on a sexual assault spree in our neighborhood for most of the preceding year.

At 8:30 p.m. I went upstairs to take a shower. As I came out, there was a man in the bathroom. He carried a gun and wore a mask. Apparently, he had come up a fire escape and through an unlocked window. Frozen and scared, I did what he demanded.

Four years ago, I decided to learn anything I could about the rapist. I talked to the Harvard and Cambridge Police and the Radcliffe administration, and they were well aware of these crimes. However, while some short articles appeared in a campus newspaper, there was no systematic attempt to alert the community at the time. A few days before my rape, my 10-year-old sister said she’d seen a man looking in an upstairs bathroom window. We thought she was imagining things.

During my search for information, I crossed paths by chance with Jessica Stern, who was on a similar search. Jessica had retrieved her police file in Concord, where her rape took place, and where a diligent detective took it upon himself to investigate her decades-old case. He assembled evidence from many towns showing that dozens of unsolved rape cases from Cambridge to Natick fit the same pattern. No DNA evidence was collected back then, but the description of the perpetrator, his gun, and his distinctive MO left little doubt that the crimes were the work of the same man.

Enduring rape at 13 was rough. But to realize now that I was one of 44 is just hard to process — a fact made harder by the knowledge that my two sisters and I were essentially sitting ducks. Having heard nothing from the police or the university, my parents had taken no extraordinary steps to protect their daughters. Yet the same man who attacked me raped two more women the next night. In the same neighborhood.

The man later proceeded to target boarding schools, including Concord Academy and Dana Hall. Police finally apprehended him in 1975, and he served 18 years in prison. After his release, he committed suicide.

There were some ad hoc steps taken to increase campus security, but the community awareness campaign one might have expected in the face of such an extraordinary crime spree was absent. Surely my family would have reacted differently when my sister reported being spooked by a man looking in a window.

Although 40 years have passed, respected institutions still suppress information about sexual assault, and rape remains the most under-reported of violent crimes. In February, the Center for Public Integrity reported findings of a 12-month investigation of campus rape. It found that colleges and universities continue “ducking bad publicity’’ by misrepresenting statistics on campus rapes.

And just this spring a Boston woman filed a lawsuit against the Radisson Hotel after being raped in their parking garage. A similar rape had occurred just 11 days prior, in the same garage allegedly by the same man, yet no one took steps to warn female employees or guests.

In my case, Harvard/Radcliffe was guilty of failing to protect its students, as well as girls like me in the surrounding community. But the institution’s withholding of information demonstrated something even more insidious that persists today.

Rape is a violent act of forced submission. Institutions that condone silence are complicit in perpetuating the shame associated with rape, confirming the message to victims that they should hide their shame and suffer in silence. I have been silent long enough.

Amy Vorenberg is a professor of law at Franklin Pierce Law School.

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