Midway Through the Semester, Four Reports of Sexual Offenses
By JESSICA MASULLI and ERIC STEIGLEDER
In the past three weeks on campus, the UMW police have reported four cases of either sexual assault or sexual misconduct. The increase in reports highlights the reccurring issue of safety on campus and in Fredericksburg.
The first incident occurred on Sept. 13 involving a Virginia Hall resident. It was reported by a third party that there was an unfounded possible sexual assault. A similar incident occurred in an undisclosed location on Sept. 27 and again, on Sept. 28, this time in Westmoreland Hall. In all three incidents, the UMW police said that the victims declined to press charges.
The most recent report was of a possible sexual misconduct on Oct. 4 in Marshall Hall. The police reported this case as “unfounded,” meaning there was insubstantial evidence to move the case forward.
According to one UMW victim of sexual assault, it is difficult to press charges.
“The [UMW] police aren’t very cooperative,” she said. “When I say cooperative, I mean they are intimidating to tell your story to. If I could do it over again, I would never have gone to the police.”
Executive Director of Police and Security Services Mark Sandor said he could not respond to individual cases. He could not be reached last night to respond to the victim’s statement.
In 2008, there were four reported cases of forcible sex offenses, marking an increase of one from 2007, according to the UMW annual security report that was released last week.
The UMW statistics are less than the reported number of rapes for the city of Fredericksburg in 2008. There were eight rapes in 2008, down from 11 in 2007, according to Natatia Bledsoe, the public information officer for the Fredericksburg Police Department.
The Fredericksburg Police Department does not keep track of UMW sexual assaults or rapes because the campus falls under the jurisdiction of the UMW Police Department. The university police decide whether to take on the case themselves or request assistance from other local police entities.
“It’s not up to the victim who is going to investigate the case,” Bledsoe said. “They can request that the University bring in the Fredericksburg or [Virginia] State Police, but it’s not up to [the victim].”
A student that is sexually assaulted should immediately go the hospital, even before contacting the police, according to Bledsoe.
By going to the emergency room at Mary Washington Hospital, a student can be treated for free by a S.A.N.E (sexual assault nurse examiner) quickly. If a victim goes to the hospital, it does not mean the police will be called automatically or that the offender will be prosecuted.
“[The nurses at the hospital] provide counseling and go through the collection of physical evidence, which is critical,” Bledsoe said.
For this reason, it is important that a victim not change clothes, shower, eat, brush teeth, urinate or drink before he or she is examined at the hospital. Even if a victim does not want to prosecute, it is important to have a physical exam to check for injuries or sexually transmitted diseases, according to the annual security report.
Going to the hospital is valuable not only from a medical perspective, but also for receiving information on services such as the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault (RCASA).
“The city has a lot of great resources,” Bledsoe said.
According to the anonymous victim, RCASA was not very helpful after her sexual assault.
“I called RCASA and went over, but they never called me back,” she said. “I was told that it could take a number of weeks, but by that time, I wouldn’t need it [counseling].”
“They need more resources for immediately after the sexual assault because that is the most important time,” she said.
UMW also has resources available for students that are sexually assaulted. Students can go to the university’s Psychological Services Center for free to receive confidential counseling, according to the annual security report.
“CAPS [Counseling and Psychological Services] is required to inform police if a sexual assault has occurred on or about campus, for statistical purposes, but, we are not required to supply any particular details,” Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and CAPS Director Barbara Wagar said.
Victims should seek emotional counseling and support immediately.
“The sooner you get it the better,” Sandor said.
“The University also encourages victims to prosecute alleged assailants to the fullest extent of the law,” according to the UMW resource guide for Preventing and Responding to Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, and Stalking.
There are three options within the judicial system, depending on the assailant. A victim can file criminal charges with the police. If the case is accepted, the Commonwealth Attorney will argue the case for free and the identity of the victim will be protected, although the assailant will not be protected, according to the resource guide.
Another option is to file judicial charges through the University, if both parties are UMW students.
“The campus judicial system examines whether or not university policy (not the law) is violated,” the resource guide says.
The anonymous victim went through the judicial process and did find some closure, but it did not provide the outcome she wanted.
“The judicial process is a good way to deal because it allows you to ask the assailant questions you wonder about,” she said.
Students may combine a judicial hearing at UMW with criminal or civil prosecutions in the city court system. A civil prosecution requires an attorney.
If students feel uncomfortable with any of these options, they may also file a third party sexual assault report. These reports are “not counted as actual crime offenses unless they have been fully investigated by police,” according to the resource guide. This method provides emotional assistance for the student and for the police in terms of gathering statistics.
“There are a lot of services available to victims,” Sandor said. “We want to assure that students don’t become victims.”
Sandor recommends taking precautions to prevent sexual assault before even going out.
“Be responsible,” Sandor said. “If you are going out to have a good time, go with friends, go to safe locations where you know people hosting the event, stick with your friends, leave with your friends and remember there are resources to get you back to campus safely.”
The anonymous victim agrees.
“Be careful who you trust,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to say no and stand up for yourself.”
Another precaution is the Student Escort Service that operates nightly from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week. Students can still request an escort from the police department after these hours by using a blue light phone or calling campus police.
According to Bledsode and Wagar, the majority of sexual assault victims are well acquainted with their assailant.
“All of the rapes that occurred in Fredericksburg last year were committed by males that knew the victim prior to the attack,” Bledsoe said. “There were no instances of random attacks.”
Wagar recommends above all other forms of safety precautions students need to be educated about what sexual assault is.
“Perhaps the best safety measure is educating all students about what constitutes sexual assault and/or misconduct,” Wagar said.
Wagar discourages students from mixing alcohol with sexual contact, being unclear on consent and perpetuating common myths regarding assault. Approximately 11 percent of those who visit CAPS came to receive counseling regarding a sexual assault issue.
According to Executive Vice President Rick Hurley, the administration has taken steps to increase safety on the UMW campus as well.
“We have added security guards to the Sunken Road parking lot and added security guards to the parking areas at the Battleground,” Hurley said. “We added two police officers to the campus police force so we can always have at least two officers on duty on all shifts.”
The administration has also initiated a project to increase the number of emergency phones and lights on campus, as per the recommendation of the Student Government Association. Hurley also said that the university has decided to pay UMW officers more in order to maintain the highest quality police force.
Additionally, there has been a $45,600 budget increase allocated for the new security guards stationed at Trinkle, Seacobeck, and the Battleground, according Paul Messplay, executive director of budget analysis.
Hurley said the current economic situation will have no effect on safety funding.
“There are no plans to reduce the funding for campus safety,” Hurley said.
While UMW has put more money into campus safety, some students think more is needed.
“Most sexual assault victims know the attacker,” junior Cara MacDonald said. “Because of this I think our school needs a sexual assault resource center, to help men and women learn how to cope with their trauma.”