Angelina Chechenova, 17, traveled to Acquapendente, Italy in September of 2012. She was taking part in “Intercultural” exchange program.
Chechenova with her friend from Norway went to the nearest small city, Viterbo, to a nightclub Oct. 2. According to Chechenova, they were about to take a taxi home at 2 a.m., but were told they could not find a cab at such a late time. Then she asked some local young Italian men to give them a ride home. These five men were willing to help, however, when they left the city, the men started to assault the girls in the car. Later, they stopped the car in a forest and pulled the girls out of the car, and according to Chechenova and her friend, committed a gang rape. Later on, they drove the two girls home and then disappeared.
It later emerged that, among this group, there was a young man whom Chechenova knew because he sometimes visited the family she lived with.
She went to the hospital and completed the required medical procedures. After this she went to the police. The suspects were easy to find, mostly by Facebook. However, they were released without any accusations or charges.
The local police did not do anything to help Chechenova, until she contacted the Russian embassy in Rome.
“I am far away from my country. I am only 17. I need psychological, medical, and juridical help,” Chechenova said in an interview. “They give me a lot of documents I do not understand what they are about, because I don’t have any lawyer here. I was provided a medical worker as a translator, who can not translate everything.”
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was accused of not taking any actions regarding Chechenova’s issue. Alexander Prosvirkin, the official of Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that she was not cooperating with the embassy officials.
“She did not give her parents’ contact information and we had to find it by ourselves,” Prosvirkin said. “Moreover, she is too negotiable with the press, she already has given the information which is private to the investigation process.”
The judicial proceeding will be held in three months.
While DePaul students studying abroad in Italy may need to take extra precaution after this and other similar incidents, international students studying in Chicago need to be careful as well.
“We always warn students: Don’t go home with strangers. Make sure you are taking a licensed car,” said Jerome the Director of Study Abroad Program at DePaul University.
“I feel like I need to defend myself a lot. I am paranoid that anybody could shoot me or attack me any time of the day. I’m constantly making sure that people aren’t watching me,” said Subuk Hasnain, 22, from Pakistan, a DePaul University student.
“I try to be as nice as possible and be open to any thoughts and discussions,” said Hasnain. “I do it partially because I want the world to know that I am a Pakistani Muslim, but I am also cool, open-minded and I’m only here to learn, gain knowledge. I don’t want any hostility.”
Regardless of where international students traveled to Chicago from, they all face similar hardships when navigating a new city. Asking advice from locals is one of the most helpful ways to learn about staying safe, according to Miaoran Ning of China, 24, studying at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
“Basically it’s safe in Chicago. But you should pay more attention to your own safety than in your own country. A lot of people alerted me that Chicago is not safe after dark, so I basically avoid going out alone after dark,” said Ning.
Staying alert and open to new relationships can also help foreign students familiarize themselves with the area. However, researching the city before beginning a stay in Chicago is encouraged, as well.
“I found it is important to be friendly and talk to people here, maybe because I am still stay in ‘honeymoon’,” said Yue Li, 19, from China, a DePaul University student. “About this situation, I think it happened because they did not have enough experience to be a foreign students. They needed to get some suggestions and advice before they went abroad.”