UPD working to solve campus sexual assaults

Published 5:00 am Sunday, October 8, 2017

In the first month of the fall semester at Ole Miss four sexual assaults were reported.

As detectives with the University Police Department investigate the reports, there is a looming question before them: is there an increase in assaults, or are the victims feeling more empowered to report them, rather than suffering in silence.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90 percent of victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

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Reported sexual assaults have risen over the last five years at Ole Miss. According to the Annual Security Report, in 2013, there were five reported sexual assaults. In 2014, it dropped slightly to four; however, in 2015 it jumped to eight. In 2016, there were nine reported sexual assaults, according to the daily crime reports submitted to the EAGLE by UPD.

The first assault this semester occurred on Sept. 8 at the Chi Psi fraternity. The second happened six days later on Sept. 14 at Crosby Hall. The third case occurred on Sept. 16 at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house. Nine days later, the fourth sexual assault was reported on Sept. 25 at Brown Hall.

Additionally, on Sept. 10, an Ole Miss student was sexually assaulted off campus by two men who offered the victim a ride home from the Square. The two men have been arrested and charged with kidnapping and sexual assault.

UPD Assistant Chief Ray Hawkins said no arrests have been made in any of the incidents; however, a person of interest has been identified and interviewed for the assault at Crosby Hall.

Hawkins said investigators are looking into the reported assaults; however, not all of the victims wanted to continue the investigation into their assault.

Hawkins said the university puts a lot of effort into educating students about sexual assault prevention and offers several programs and services aimed at keeping students safe – if students elect to take advantage of those programs.

The university offers walking escorts at night, known as Rebel Patrol and UPD will escort anyone back to their dorm if they feel unsafe. The school also uses the LifeSafe app that allows students to keep in touch friends when walking home, call or text UPD if they feel unsafe or see suspicious activity.

“The app uses GPS to show friends when you leave from somewhere and when you get to where you’re going,” Hawkins said. “It lets you request an emergency response or call and text UPD’s dispatch center. You can also let us know with the app if you see something suspicious and send us video clips.”

The university also has services for the victims of sexual assault and also often works with Family Crisis Services of Northwest Mississippi.

Coming out of the shadows

Adult Victim Services Coordinator Libby Lytle, who recently retired from the Oxford Police Department, said publicity and social media may have helped encouraged victims to file a report when they’ve been sexually assaulted.

“There has been more publicity on these crimes both nationally with student-athletes, and locally with the Violence Prevention Office at Ole Miss,” Lytle said. “There has been an increase in conversations on this topic from some of the many sexual assault cases reported in the news throughout this country. The increase in awareness has allowed this topic to come out of the shadows an into everyday conversations and interactions.”

Lytle said there has also been an increase in law enforcement agencies, colleges and universities reporting these types of crimes to their communities through their social media outlets.

“Since more attention is being given to these crimes, all victims are feeling more comfortable and supported enough to report the crime,” she said. “This crime is happening to both men and women statistically. Men are much less likely to report the crime than women.”

With a high percentage of rape victims knowing their perpetrator, some are still too scared to report the crime. Some victims are still afraid that some will think it was their fault that the assault occurred.

“They may have common friends, friends of friends and such that pressure the victim to not press charges,” Lytle said. “The other aspect to consider is the criticism of their character that you see in the national sexual assault cases where the victim’s behavior is being dissected and torn apart. To conduct victim blaming and shaming seems to be the usual defense for the perpetrator and their defense team.”

While some victims will still choose to not report the crime or decide to drop charges against their assailant, they still should seek professional help.

“All victims should seek therapy to deal with all the emotions that come with being victimized,” Lytle said. “This type of crime is very personal and can affect all facets of a person’s life. Therapy to help deal with the impact on them is very important, but also a personal decision to be a part of.”