In September, two sexual assaults were reported at the University of Connecticut Storrs campus, with less than a week between them, stirring fear among students.
Recent Sexual Assaults
On Sep. 6, Police said a man approached a female student from behind near the Hilltop apartment complex, around 1:50 a.m. He threatened the student with a knife and took her to a wooded area close by, where he completed the assault.
Police increased security on campus and began investigations, but the assailant was never caught or identified.
Exactly a week after, on Sep. 13, around 2:20 a.m., another assault took place, this time at Celeron, an off-campus apartment complex. Police said a student was sleeping when a man broke into her apartment and sexually assaulted her. When she began screaming the man fled.When officers arrived at the scene, they arrested UConn student Frank P. Cirillo, 21, whom they found “partially clothed”, trying to break into another nearby apartment. Cirillo, who was not involved in the first incident, has since left UConn and has been charged with sexual assault in the first degree, burglary, criminal attempt burglary, criminal mischief, larceny and breach of peace.
He was released after posting a $500,000 bond and is next scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 9, 2009.
Increased Safety and Awareness
Although UConn has increased Campus security, including more officers on campus and more police patrols, the assaults brought campus safety once again to the minds of students. They have visibly become more aware and concerned with the decisions they make regarding their own safety.
Since then, there have been events and meetings to address the issue. One of the most known events was the rally “What will you do?” Completely organized by students, it intended to raise awareness to campus violence. It also sought to encourage the university community to take responsibility in changing campus climate, which organizers believe encourage violent episodes, especially against women.
Campus climate leads to assault cheering on Spring Break
We don’t need to take their word for that. It is enough to recall what happened over spring break to Melissa Bruen, former editor-in-chief of UConn’s student newspaper The Daily Campus. She wrote a first-page, first-person account of the sexual assault she suffered on April 26, when walking to an off-campus party through what students call the “rape trail” – a three-quarter-mile-long paved, well-lit path from North Hillside Road to Celeron apartments.On her article, Bruen described how she was “dry-humped” while on the phone, after she decided to call a friend to pick her up. Bruen managed to push off and hit her attacker, who ran. But she would not be left alone.
“Another man, around 6’1”, approached me and said, ‘You think that was assault?’ and he pulled down my tube top, and grabbed my breasts. More men started to cheer. It didn’t matter to the drunken mob that my breasts were being shown or fondled against my will. They were happy to see a topless girl all the same. I punched him in the face, and someone shoved me into a throng of others. I was surrounded, but I kept swinging and hitting until I was able to break free of the circle they had formed,” Bruen wrote.
Incredibly, as if it wasn’t hard enough to be subjected to such violence while fellow students who watched did nothing to help, and even cheered her attackers; as if it wasn’t hard enough to gather enormous strength to tell her story on the front page, Bruen was attacked once again through commentaries posted by students on the Daily Campus Web site.
Some of the comments posted criticized her story – “It could have been done more tastefully,” and even attacked her personally – “This story seems like a graduating journalist’s cry for fame,” or questioned the veracity of her story – “I feel sorry for anyone who is actually a victim of assault and doesn’t have such a romanticized story to tell.”
Obviously, university administrators, students and the entire community have a long way to go to fight the elements that make such violence possible, from poorly lit areas to the culture that allows people to re-victimize a woman who dares to stand up against her attackers.
This page is an attempt to raise awareness to the problem, the resources available to victims and the community and to possible solutions.