September 27, 2012

EDITORS’ NOTE APPENDED | Cornell Police: Sexual Crimes Surge Is Result of Increase in Reporting

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Editor’s note appended

In the wake of a string of sexual assaults on and near campus –– including a reported attempted rape Wednesday evening –– the Cornell University Police Department said the trend does not reflect an upswing in the occurrence of sexual crimes but rather an increase in the number of victims who have reported them.

“I think we can attribute [the increase] to people feeling comfortable [enough] to come forward,” Zoner said. “We’ve just started to uncover more of these crimes that are happening on campus.”

CUPD is investigating an attempted rape that reportedly occurred on the Trolley Bridge –– which connects Oak Avenue and the Engineering Quad –– at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. A female victim said she was grabbed by an unknown male while she was walking across the bridge. The assailant then reportedly dragged the victim into a wooded area south of the bridge while making repeated threats that he was going to rape her, according to CUPD.

The victim said she struggled against her attacker until she was able to strike him in the face and then flee, according to CUPD. She did not report any injuries.

The perpetrator is described as a white male, about six feet tall, with dark hair. He “appeared to be in his late 30s and was last seen wearing a dark suit jacket with light colored pants,” according to CUPD.

After the attack, the male fled in an unknown direction, CUPD reported.

On the morning of Sept. 2, another female victim reported that she was accosted and raped near the Suspension Bridge, north of the Arts Quad. She said she was grabbed from behind by an unknown male who forced her to have sexual intercourse, according to police.

Additionally, 30 minutes before the reported rape on Sept. 2, a different female victim reported that she was forcibly touched in her Collegetown home, according to the Ithaca Police Department. The University said a third female victim reported being forcibly touched the same day while walking through the Hughes parking lot early in the morning.

CUPD –– which is still investigating the reported crimes –– urged students to consider increased personal safety measures in the aftermath of the attacks.

“Due to the increased level of criminal activity … we are strongly urging members of the Cornell community to take prudent and necessary safety precautions, including: locking your doors and windows at all times [and] using alternative methods of transportation, such as Blue Light escorts, Blue Light buses, taxis,” CUPD said in a Sept. 2 press release.

At Thursday’s Student Assembly meeting, President David Skorton echoed these sentiments.

“[It’s] important to have security in your place of dwelling. It’s important to not walk around alone on a college campus at odd hours if it’s possible not to do it,” Skorton said. “It may be distasteful for you. It may be frustrating. It may make you angry, but nonetheless, it’s still part of a pretty wise bit of advice because unfortunately, on many college campuses, the risk of sexual assault is large.”

Geoffrey Block ’14, at-large representative for the S.A., said that the University needs to undertake more proactive efforts to ensure student safety.

“Right now, students don’t feel safe on this campus. I can’t tell you the number of Facebook statuses and Tweets and things like that I’ve seen today about students very concerned about yet another [sexual assault] on this campus,” Block said. “Students really want to see action taken. Students really want … an increase in patrols.”

Garrison Lovely ’16, a freshman representative for the S.A., also argued that the Blue Light phone in particular can be ineffective as a safety initiative.

The phone service ending at 2:30 a.m. “basically just gives any potential rapist a window when they know that nobody is going to be [going] home safely,” he said.

Still, Zoner maintained that Cornell police are working to keep students safe on campus and said that CUPD plans to “do more of the same.”

“We’ve made significant progress toward …. increasing awareness of these issues and educating people who are not as knowledgeable,” she said.

CUPD urges anyone with information about the recent sexual crimes to call its headquarters at 607-255-1111.

Joseph Niczky contributed reporting to this story.

Editor’s note

This article provides an inaccurate representation of Police Chief Kathy Zoner’s response to the recent string of reported sexual crimes on and around campus.

It states incorrectly that Zoner believes the series of recent sexual assaults this semester “does not reflect an upswing in the occurrence of sexual crimes but rather an increase in the number of victims who have reported them.” There were two major factual inaccuracies in this sentence, which became the premise of the story, its headline and subsequent columns published in The Sun.

For one, Zoner was not speaking solely about the recent sexual crimes reported this semester because she believed she was being questioned about crime statistics over a year-long period. More importantly, Zoner did not say, as quoted, that there has been no actual increase in sexual crimes. In saying that more people are reporting sexual crimes, Zoner was referring to a recent Justice Department survey that indicated that 13-percent more victims of sexual assault are reporting these crimes than they did in 1996.

Zoner said this statement had no direct reference to the sexual assaults reported this semester and was not meant to imply that there has been no upswing in recent sexual assaults reported on our campus.

“As a result of these errors, the article implies that Cornell University Police are complacent, leaving Cornellians to protect themselves,” Zoner said. “But as I explained … we also take each case seriously; we have good leads and are actively investigating them. We expanded nighttime patrols. We are meeting with concerned community members in groups and individually, surveying lighting with community input and researching placement of additional deterrence and investigative technology such as cameras and access control. Your readers should know all of this. If nothing else, it may restore some peace of mind.”

Original Author: Kerry Close