Sexual assault crime alert delay due to lack of initial details, accuracy

Monday, April 9, 2018 - 9:15pm

The sexual assault that occurred in South Quad Residence Hall has made some residents concerned about the University's late response.

The sexual assault that occurred in South Quad Residence Hall has made some residents concerned about the University's late response. Buy this photo
Darby Stipe/Daily

After a third-degree sexual assault in South Quad Residence Hall at the University of Michigan was alerted last Friday, some residents were concerned about the two-day delay in the crime alert. The assault, which took place on March 27 and was reported to DPSS on April 4, was not reported to the entire student body via a crime alert until 3:40 p.m. on April 6.

LSA freshman Cassandra Ritter, a South Quad resident, said she was confused as to why the crime alert was delayed seeing as though it impacted the immediate safety of residents.

“I took issue with the fact that this incident was reported on April 4th, and we didn’t get any notification about it until the 6th, and all of (the previous DPSS crime alerts) were reported a couple of hours after, and some of them even an hour after,” Ritter said. “I don’t understand why this incident, they didn’t let us know until two days after, even though this is something that directly affects us because it happened in our dorms.”

Melissa Overton, University deputy chief of police, said the delay was due to lack of information from the initial report and could not be avoided.

“We had to do some further investigation based on the original information we had,” Overton said. “We were trying to determine exact location, things like that. It just depends on what’s originally reported to us.”

According to Overton, this was not due to doubt of the victim’s account but to ensure the accuracy of the crime alert.

“The way we evaluate (a case) for a crime alert is we determine at the time, with all the information that we have, whether or not we deem it to be a public safety threat,” Overton said. “So as soon as we got enough information (about the sexual assault in South Quad), enough to be helpful to the community, is when we released it. We want to make sure that everything that we have is accurate. It doesn’t always take that long, sometimes it takes longer, it just depends.”

However, many students were not aware of the investigation and felt their fears were not being taken seriously. Ritter, who is part of Sexperteam, a sexual health advocacy group on campus, said the University’s response was “concerning.”

“I’m scared every single time I pass by a closet,” Ritter said. “I’m constantly on guard. I know that this could potentially happen anywhere, but to know that it happened in my own dorm, and the perpetrator hasn’t been caught is very concerning … I just find it very concerning the way they handled this, especially because it is such a big deal. I kind of feel like the University doesn’t really care about our safety in a sense, because I haven’t seen any measures taken to keep us safe during this time.”

Ritter emailed her Hall Director Dan Green, and said while he seemed concerned and mentioned resources to talk about the situation, he did not appear to take her concerns seriously.

“Although he assured me that DPSS was going to try and keep us safe as much as possible, and try and find who did it, I didn’t get the feeling that they were really actively trying to do things to keep us safe and keep this from happening again,” Ritter said. “It was more of, ‘If you want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, you can. The RAs are there to help with that.’ But I didn’t get the feeling that our safety was truly being considered in the situation, and that’s kind of frustrating.”

Two and a half hours after the crime alert was issued, Green sent an email to all South Quad residents reiterating the comments he wrote to Ritter. LSA freshman Margaret Boelter, another South Quad Resident, also took concern with the way the sexual assault was conveyed, and mentioned it was “strange” that she received an email about South Quad apparel an hour after the crime alert, but before she received the email about the assault.

“It felt really strange that the housing department would send out emails about South Quad T-shirts before the incident that happened,” Boelter said. “They had information for a while, and I think it would have been much safer for them to release it earlier, and it feels like they really haven’t done much to try to mitigate what happened.”

Boelter said she hopes the handling of the assault will allow the University to reflect on services for survivors, specifically the accessibility of prosecuting perpetrators, should victims wish to do so.

“I think also this is a very good chance for the University to self-reflect on survivor reporting services, things like SAPAC (Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center) and things like that,” Boelter said. “From what I can tell, the University really needs to work on how they handle cases like this, and especially giving people avenues for legal action if they want to take it, rather than just support services, which is nice, but sometimes you feel like no one’s actually listening to you.”