Amid parents’ weekend, Tulane attempts to hush sexual assault near campus

This article was published in The Hullabaloo on August 27, 2010.

A Tulane student reported she was sexually assaulted around 3 a.m. Sunday by an unknown man in the foyer of her home, located on Versailles Boulevard. Versailles is across Claiborne Avenue from Tulane’s campus.

Though the student was sexually assaulted outside the perimeters of Tulane’s official police coverage, Tulane is still heavily involved in dealing with the aftermath.

“God forbid, if one of our students lived in Kenner and were the victim of a crime, we would be involved in finding that suspect, though it would be primarily [the] Kenner police’s investigation,” said Michael Bernstein, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

In response to the slew of violent and sexual assaults on Tulane students in fall 2008, the Office of Student Affairs opened the Office of Violence Prevention and Support Services in early 2009. OVPSS offers victims a range of free services, including helping to postpone the student’s exams and paper deadlines, finding them emergency housing, providing legal and medical assistance and arranging psychological counseling.

“We can do anything and everything to accommodate a student who has been a victim of a crime,” Bernstein said. In light of the string of rapes that occurred in the 2008 – 2009 school year, two of which occurred on the same block of Freret Street, students said they were disturbed by the events.

“Everyone thinks a ‘prominent street’ is safe,” senior Brian Grober said. “So if it’s not safe, we should know.”
The Tulane University Police Department notified the Tulane community Sunday afternoon of the sexual assault via e-mail but described the location as “a prominent street near Tulane University” instead of specifying the street name and block.

The e-mail stated its actions were in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

Mike Hiestand, a consulting attorney at the Student Press Law Center, said that Tulane’s vague wording may undermine the point of alerting students in the first place. “The purpose of the Clery Act is to provide information that the campus community can use to protect itself,” Hiestand said. “Simply saying ‘a prominent street near Tulane,’ in my mind, doesn’t cut it. This person got away. He’s loose near campus and obviously posed a threat.”

While students may feel safer knowing where crimes have occurred, Michael Hogg, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said the location of an attack is irrelevant when managing his major concern, which is ensuring students’ safety. “Crime doesn’t just happen in one area,” Hogg said. “We hope students are on high alert wherever they are.” TUPD Sergeant Clinton Rollin declined to comment as to whether he thinks “a prominent street near Tulane” arms students with enough information to better protect themselves.

Garry Flot, New Orleans Police Department public information officer, said the location of the incident is on the public record. “We’re supposed to give you certain things when it comes to the crime — time, date, not a specific location but a… block,” Flot said.

Some students said they were concerned by the ambiguity as to where the incident occurred.
“It’s better to inform students of the location because they have to know to be able to better protect themselves,” senior Whitney Muroff said.

TUPD’s decision to exclude the location of the crime was based on NOPD’s ongoing effort to catch the attacker, as well as preserving the victim’s privacy, Rollins said. “We do need to walk a very fine line [when writing the Crime Alerts], balancing what Tulane students need to know with what NOPD needs from us,” Rollin said. “NOPD has certain leads they’re following up on and they don’t want to compromise any of those investigations… The area was outside of Tulane’s patrol, so responsibility goes to NOPD.”

Tulane’s off-campus patrol covers the area enclosed by Claiborne Avenue, Jefferson Avenue, St. Charles Avenue, and S. Carrollton Avenue — a half- to one-mile radius surrounding Tulane’s campus.

Victims of sexual assault seldom report the incident. The Center for Public Integrity, a Washington D.C.-based investigative journalism non-profit, reported that 95 percent of college campus rapes go unreported. “A lot of people don’t report sexual assault because they feel guilty and blame themselves,” said Erica Woodley, OVPSSassistant dean for case management. “We want to overcome that hurdle at Tulane so people get to us so we can help them.”

Woodley said that heeding common safety tips is important, though not foolproof. “You can do everything right and still be a victim,” she said. Students can call Safe Ride, which runs nightly from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., or a TUPDescort, available 24/7, to ensure their safety after dark.

Rollin and TUPD Officer Joseph Himel said Tulane students tend to hesitate in calling the police, even when they have a bad feeling about someone. “People have been programmed to think, ‘Well, it looks like I’m racially profiling.’ So rather than acting on gut instincts, they rationalize criminal behavior,” Rollin said. “But you can’t afford not to react. You call the police, and let us decide if you need us or not. You will not disturb us. We like doing it. We like catching bad guys. That’s what we live for. We wish people would call us more.”

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