OXFORD — Miami University has recently grabbed attention across the state after three women reported rape or suspected sexual assault in a span of three weeks.
Two women sought medical attention at a local hospital for suspected rape on Jan. 26 and Feb. 3 and a third went to police after she was raped Feb. 5 at a Miami dorm by a man she knew.
In each of the unrelated cases, the women did not want to pursue criminal investigation.
Rape or sexual assault cases similar to these occur multiple times each year on area college campuses.
One in four women will be raped or will be a victim of attempted rape during their college career, though nearly half of those victims tell no one about it, according to the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
Seven sexual assaults at Miami University were reported to campus police in 2008, according to the federal Office of Postsecondary Education.
Seven assaults were also reported at nearby University of Cincinnati in 2008 and five were reported at Wright State University.
Those numbers may actually be much higher, as an estimated 95 percent of attacks go unreported, according to the AAUW.
Ninety percent of the time, college women who are victims of rape or sexual assault know their attacker, and 75 percent of the time alcohol consumption was involved, according to the AAUW.
“People are drinking this liquor like water, and they’re getting blind drunk,” said Oxford police Lt. Dan Umbstead. Campus police are using education as their best line of defense.
“A lot of times these things center around alcohol overuse,” said Miami police Chief John McCandless. “Sometimes we ask ourselves how could we have prevented it, except to hammer home the education part.”
Police say students must be aware of the risks, even in small college town
Local police say alcohol is a major factor in most crimes around Miami University, including sexual assaults.
Across the country, alcohol plays a role in 75 percent of sexual assaults of college students, where either the victim, attacker or both have been drinking, according to the American Association of University Women.
That was the case in Miami’s most recently reported rape, which happened on Feb. 5.
A woman was drinking with friends near campus when she received a text message from a man she had met online. The man, a Miami student, asked her to meet at his dorm, where the woman, who was not a student, said she was raped, according to a campus police report.
The woman told police she did not want to pursue charges.
“That was a person known to her,” Miami police Chief John McCandless said of her decision. “Those are always tough, to us.”
For police, education is the best line of defense.
“We can’t be in people’s rooms. We can’t be with them when they make choices. We try to educate them,” McCandless said.
Rape victims, especially those who are college-aged, often do not want to pursue charges against their attacker. They also are more likely to be assaulted by someone they know, said Becky Perkins, director of the Butler County Rape Crisis Program.
“Usually an attacker will threaten a victim,” Perkins said. “Others are embarrassed. Rape is a humiliating crime and it’s not something that people often feel comfortable sharing with strangers, like police officers.”
Victims also often feel responsible, especially in cases where alcohol is involved, Perkins said.
And indeed, it almost always is. On Nov. 25, another woman reported she was drinking at an Uptown Oxford bar with friends when she met a man who asked to stay in her room. Police said he raped her during the night. She told police she reported the crime because most rapes go unreported. However, she, too, did not want to pursue charges.
Another Miami University student was in court this week for allegedly attempting to rape a woman at a campus building. The victim in that case had a blood alcohol level of 0.20.
Alcohol also played a role in a case that went to court :ast February for a 40-year-old man who had sex with a woman younger than 21 who had been drinking. The man was acquitted of all charges.
Not immune to crime
Many Miami students talk of their community being in a “bubble” — a safe college town surrounded by farm land.
They see Oxford as a town of students just like themselves. In Oxford, 44 percent of the population is between 20 and 24, according to the city. City crime does fall mostly in the category of underage drinking, vandalism or petty theft .
But the idea that Oxford is in a bubble is one police try to pop from the very beginning at freshmen orientation and with programs in residence halls, McCandless said.
“Although this is a very safe community, it’s not immune from crime,” McCandless said. “We do get frustrated. We try to remind people that … bad things do happen here.”
Oxford police Lt. Dan Umbstead said the latest sexual assaults aren’t isolated events. “It’s happening more than I’ve seen it before.”
Students can report sexual assaults to Miami police, said university spokeswoman Claire Wagner. Or, they can take a case though the university’s judicial affairs office, which can take action on violations of the school’s code of conduct with suspension or other discipline, Wagner said.
Oxford police are notified when a woman goes to the local hospital to seek medical attention for a suspected sexual assault. In many cases, there is no evidence and nothing police can pursue, Umbstead said.
“There are many, many, many that are not something that we’d be able to prosecute,” he said. “A lot of our cases aren’t clean cut, somebody jumping out of the bushes and attacking.”
Because most attacks are between people who know each other, many Miami students say they feel safe.
“I’m not very concerned about the assaults because once in a while something like this will happen anywhere, at any campus,” said sophomore Rachel Vargo, who lives in Minnich Hall. “If I ever felt uncomfortable by a male presence in the dorm, I would report it immediately because that’s the right and logical thing to do.”
“I feel like people aren’t aware of how often it happens until it hits home, meaning until it happens to a friend or to themselves,” said sophomore Jordan Jamieson, also a Minnich Hall resident.
“The e-mails the university sends out about these rapes and assaults come off as just a reminder,” she said. “They seem insignificant just because so many things always happen on this campus and it just becomes another overlooked report.”
University officials have responded to the recent attacks by more strictly enforcing policies requiring male visitors to be escorted in dorm areas for women.
Meanwhile, some students are working to educate their peers on sexual assault.
“As a male at Miami University, I view the issue of rape as a very serious issue that is increasing at a disturbing rate. It gives us males a bad reputation and it needs to be resolved,” said Miami junior Adam Heinzman.
Miami has two groups working to promote awareness: Women Against Violence and Sexual Assault and Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault.
The men’s group has in recent years been educating new fraternity members on what it means to obtain consent for sexual activity, what to do as a bystander if an assault occurs nearby, and how to empathize with sexual-assault victims, said adviser John Ward.
“At this point, every member of a fraternity on Miami’s campus has had an opportunity for some type of sexual-assault training,” Ward said.
In September, the Panhellenic Association for sororities also will host a self-defense workshop open to every woman on campus.
'A humiliating crime'
Perkins, of the county rape crisis program, said many people will try to protect themselves from thinking rape could happen to them, by rationalizing that if they don’t go to a party or drink too much they can avoid the crime. That turns into blaming the victim, she said.
“We’re all afraid of crimes like rape,” she said.
“The only people who can prevent rape from happening are rapists,” Perkins said.
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