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UNCW campus police give new details on five sexual assaults reported in one month

UNCW campus police give new details on five sexual assaults reported in one month
Published: Oct. 28, 2021 at 12:39 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The UNCW Police Department is sharing more information about five sexual assaults reported on campus in a matter of weeks. Police officials want students and parents to know there is not a serial sexual predator on the loose. All of the reported assaults involve different victims and perpetrators.

“What is surprising about it is that we had five reported sexual offenses in a very short period of time, beginning September 24 through the 17th of [October],” Interim UNCW Police Chief Chris Bertram explained to WECT. “Overall, the numbers are similar to last year, but we’ve never had so many in such a short period of time.”

All of the reported incidents happened in student dorm buildings, including three in Pelican Hall, one in Seahawk Crossing, and one in Seahawk Village. Four women reported being sexually assaulted and another woman reported being groped without her consent

“In every one of the incidents, the victim or survivor knew the perpetrator or the alleged perpetrator,” Bertram added. “While any are too many, the number is in line with what we normally see. The difference here is that we had five within a four- or five-week period.”

For perspective, there were nine reported sex offenses on the UNCW campus in 2020, and ten so far this year. Police say 2019 was an anomaly, with just one sexual offense reported on campus. Looking back to 2018, 19 sexual offenses were reported to UNCW police.

Traditionally, victims will first contact the University CARE center, which provides resources for victims of sexual assault. From there, some victims choose to notify campus police of the assault, but many choose not to.

“I would say for better or worse, most of the clients that we see in my office don’t want to make any formal report about what’s happened,” explained CARE Center Director Jen August. “Those that do will more often explore the Title IX options because there’s a fear that if they go to the police it will ruin that person’s life and they still have enough compassion for that individual because, generally, they do know the individual, and they have friends in common, and they don’t want see that person’s life ruined.”

August said this year, victims have been more willing to file a police report than in years past. Whether that results in criminal charges taken out against the accused attackers remains to be seen. Campus officials say that’s typically up to the victim and the District Attorney’s Office. All of the cases that have happened this year at UNCW are still under investigation.

WECT first learned about the sexual assaults after a student contacted us with concerns. She asked not to be identified, but claimed that one of the alleged attackers had not been expelled, but simply moved to another dorm. Still, many students we talked to on campus said they felt safe at UNCW.

August said she’s encouraged that victims have been willing to go to police to report the crimes against them. She says even though the UNCW campus is generally safe, college-aged students everywhere are vulnerable to sexual assault.

“I would say that one of the things that makes this a more high-risk age group is the fact that a lot of them are just learning their limits with alcohol, and they are just having their first freedom from their parents and from their parents’ rules. So there’s a lot of experimentation of behaviors... and a lot of them don’t know their limits. However, that doesn’t make it their fault if something happens. It’s just unfortunate that harm-doers will seek out those people who seem to have exceeded their limits, people who drink too much or are under the influence of something, and not as much in control,” August said.

The CARE Violence Prevention and Response Team and the UNCW Police Department took part in a town hall on campus to answer questions from students about the recent sexual assaults, to remind students how to protect themselves, and to tell them about resources available to them if they are assaulted. Chief Bertram also asked student to remember the police are there to help them, and not to hesitate to use them as a resource.

“If they feel threatened or if there is somebody in their dorm room that they don’t want there, if they call us we will come in we will help them,” Bertram said. “If they are concerned because maybe they were drinking under age and they are afraid that if they call us they’re going to get in trouble for that, they don’t need to worry about that. They need to call us if they feel that they need us.”

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