October 8, 2003

Female Student Reports Lake Sexual Assault

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A female student reported she was sexually assaulted in the early morning hours of Sept. 29, while walking alone on the footpath around Beebe Lake. The Cornell News Service (CNS) responded with a university-wide crime alert on Friday reporting that the assailant approached the victim from behind some trees, punched her in the face and sexually assaulted her.

When the incident was reported to the Cornell Police on Sept. 30, the victim described her attacker as a white male of college age, between 5’8″ and 5’9″ with a muscular build.

CNS cannot release any further details yet because the incident is still under investigation by Cornell Police, according to Linda Grace-Kobas, director of CNS.

Grace-Kobas said the e-mail on Friday was sent out to alert the community.

“It was important to get the word out, especially to those who walk alone late at night or early in the morning. If they have to do so, they should stay in well-lit areas and use the blue light phones if an emergency arises,” Grace-Kobas said.

The CUPD asked to be contacted immediately by anyone with knowledge of this incident.

Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services, said that the report did not represent a common occurrence on campus.

“It is very unusual to have a stranger attack in our community. Most assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim and most assaults are never reported,” Dittman said.

The incident has drawn attention to the various resources available to victims of sexual assault.

Kelly Connison, director of the Women’s Resource Center, said, “I hope the person that that’s happened to gets support from the Cornell Community. There are several avenues on campus for someone who was victimized to go to.”

The main resources available to victims of sexual assault are Gannett, Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), the Victim Advocacy Program and the Women’s Resource Center, which are on campus, and Cayuga Medical Center and the Center for Crime Victims and Sexual Assault, which are located off-campus.

“[At Gannett] we can provide medical care for someone who has been assaulted. We can make sure they’re OK and test for STDs and pregnancy,” Dittman said.

If the victim has any thoughts of taking legal action against an assailant, however, Dittman urged him or her to go to the Cayuga Medical Center. “They have an excellent staff that is trained to use the rape kit, which can be used to collect evidence.”

When a victim is seeking counseling, one resource to which they can gain access is CAPS. It is a group of clinical counselors that is a component of medical services at Gannett.

Another resource geared specifically at such victims is the Victim Advocacy Program. The victim advocate can not only refer the victim to various resources, but it can provide support to the victim, accompany the victim to services and act as a liaison between the victim and faculty and staff members.

The victim advocate provides these services to members of the Cornell Community, regardless of where the incident occurred.

“Most sexual assaults go unreported,” Dittman said. “Often, victims don’t know what they want to do after an attack. But sometimes, that feeling will change with help and support.”

“The most important thing [for a victim] is to have someone who knows them well and can help them by listening without judging and giving them space to figure things out without telling them what to do, but rather what options there are. People always want to know what offices can help, but the most immediate help and contact to most victims is a friend,” Dittman explained.

The 24-hour CVSA crisis line is one resource that is available to victims at all times. Trained volunteers offer support to victims of any type of sexual assault. They can also provide guidance to appropriate centers that can further help a victim.

Dittman encouraged people who were affected by the assault incident either directly or not to contact someone in CAPS, a counselor or the victim advocate for support.

Archived article by Tony Apuzzo