James Hayman: Sexual Assault on Campus

Publisher William Morrow will be is bringing out my fifth McCabe/Savage thriller The Girl on the Bridge on May 9th. The back jacket copy briefly describes the story:

On a freezing December night, Hannah Reindel leaps to her death from an old railway bridge into the rushing waters of the river below. Yet the real cause of death was trauma suffered twelve years earlier when Hannah was plucked from a crowd of freshman girls at a college fraternity party, drugged, and then viciously assaulted by six members of the college football team.

Those responsible have never faced or feared justice. Until now. A month after Hannah’s death, Joshua Thorne—former Holden College quarterback and now a Wall Street millionaire—is found murdered, his body bound to a bed and brutally mutilated.

When a second attacker dies in mysterious circumstances, detectives Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage know they must find the killer before more of Hannah’s attackers are executed. But they soon realize, these murders may not be simple acts of revenge, but something far more sinister.

One question I’m frequently asked about this book is why did I want to write a story about something as brutal and ugly as sexual assault on campus.


The simple answer is because it happens. More often than most people imagine. Certainly more often than parents who proudly send their children off to college could possibly imagine.


One frequently quoted statistic says that roughly 23% of college students, male as well as female, suffer sexual assault at some point during their years on campus. This figure is misleading. Partly because sexual assault in studies of the issue is usually very loosely defined, ranging from unwanted touching to all out gang rape. But it’s also misleading because a large percentage of rapes on campus go unreported. By one estimate only 39% of rapes and sexual assaults are ever reported either to campus authorities or to the police. And even when they are reported, accusations of rape by victims are often brushed under the rug by both police and college administrators.


I started thinking about writing a crime novel based on campus rape after reading Jon Krakauer’s Missoula an excellent book which examines rampant sexual abuse that took place on the campus of the University of Montana, much of it committed by members of the football team.

After finishing Missoula, I started reading more broadly about the subject of rape on campus and the often lifelong psychic damage it inflicts on victims. Symptoms of PTSD suffered by rape victims are similar to those suffered by combat veterans. Depression, vivid flashbacks and suicides even years after the event, like the suicide described in The Girl on the Bridge, are tragically common. Suicide.Org a non profit dedicated to suicide prevention estimates that roughly one third of rape victims have suicidal thoughts and that eventually about one in seven will attempt suicide. Sadly, all too many succeed.

To try to better understand the psychological effect on victims of rape I began reading a number of memoirs written by rape survivors. Two books in particular convinced me to move ahead with The Girl on the Bridge.

The first, Crash Into Me: A Survivors Search for Justice, was written by a woman named Liz Seccuro who was the victim of gang rape at a fraternity party at the University of Virginia. None of the accused rapists was punished at the time. However twenty years later Seccuro was thrown back into the panic and trauma of the event when she received a letter from one of her rapists. Her attacker said he was writing because he wanted to meet with her and apologize for what he had done so many years before. Since there is no statute of limitations on rape in Virginia, Seccuro was finally able to charge one of her rapists and see him serve prison time for what he had done.

The second book that provided me with even deeper insights into the debilitating long-term traumatic effects of rape is titled After Silence: Rape and my Journey Back by Nancy Venable Raine.

Much of what happens to Hannah Reindel in the first two chapters of The Girl on the Bridge reflects what I learned from reading Ms. Raine’s book. By Chapter 3 my own tale veers off into unexpected and murderous twists and turns.

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