Saturday, February 1, 2003

Victims in Miami U. assaults likely knew their attackers



By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - Sexual assaults of four Miami University female students off-campus last weekend are unrelated, and each involves a potential suspect known to the victim, police said Friday.

The victims have provided investigators with names in at least some of the cases, and police identified several possible suspects as Miami students, too. No arrests have been made.

The assaults were the first such reports to Oxford police involving Miami University students this year, but police said that likely has more to do with victims' willingness to come forward than the frequency of such assaults.

"It's probably one of the most underreported crimes," Oxford police Sgt. Detective John Buchholz said Friday. "Four in a weekend, I can't recall. But no one in their right mind would think four in a weekend don't happen. To us, it's discouraging."

He described the relationship of victims and suspects in the weekend incidents as "people known to (the victims), a friend of a friend, or the same circle of acquaintances."

According to National Crime Victimization Survey, cited in a University of Rochester (N.Y.) program called "Men Against Sexual Assault," among victims 18-29, two-thirds of victims had a prior relationship with the attacker.

The assaults occurred last Saturday and Sunday mornings at off-campus residences on McGuffey Avenue, East Church, South Beech and South Main streets.

The last report came in Tuesday. Police and sex-assault counselors say it is not uncommon for a victim to wait several days before going to police.

Buchholz said alcohol was involved in some of the incidents, but wasn't necessarily a factor. He said some involved different social gatherings earlier in the night.

During lunch hour at the university's Shriver Center, most students said they were unaware of the attacks, and feel that Miami is generally a safe campus.

"I don't feel like safety is a big concern," freshman Maggie Shell said. "I just think that girls need to be cautious and aware of who they are around."

Luke Buhrmester, a freshman, mentioned a sexual-assault awareness program the university ran during freshman orientation.

"I felt that they focused on sexual assault the most during orientation," he said. "I felt it was a little awkward, but I understood the logic of it."

The program, instituted in the summer 2001, involves separate programs for students and parents, and unlike similar programs in the past, includes information specifically for males.

"Most sex-assault prevention programs are aimed at women, they tell them don't drink, don't walk alone at night," Miami University spokeswoman Holly Wissing said Friday. "But the fact is, men have to be involved."

The university is assisting police in the investigation and has made counseling available to the victims.

She added that if suspects are university students, they could be subject to judicial inquiries by the school, whether they are charged by police or not.

Jon Gambrell contributed to this report.

E-mail toneill@enquirer.com




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