Stranger assaults infrequent at Miami, but garner most fear
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, April 23, 2012 22:04
Prospective students and their parents frequently ask about emergency call boxes on campus, according to Miami University Police Department (MUPD) Chief John McCandless. However, McCandless said these call boxes have not been used in over four years.
He said the university tries to strategically place them around campus, but due to the popularity of cell phones, the call buttons are rarely used. Miami has roughly 12 call lights, four of which are on Western Campus. Their locations are listed on the police website, www.muohio.edu/police.
Miami takes in safety suggestions on the police’s annual summer survey of returning students.
One suggestion they receive, according to McCandless, is for better lighting in dark parts of campus. He said the police relay those suggestions to Miami Physical Facilities.
“Twice per year, representatives from the grounds and Associated Student Government (ASG) do a walking tour of campus at night and see if there are areas that might be darker or are an area where someone walking might feel uncomfortable,” he said.
McCandless said every year the police department will get calls, emails and media attention when a serious crime occurs. An example of that from this year, he said, was in September, when a female student reported walking alone in central quad and was attacked from behind by a white male.
“That’s an example of a stranger assault that for us is very uncommon,” McCandless said. “I remember for us there were lots of phone calls and articles in the paper … that is one of those events that raises people consciousness and instills this sense of fear.”
Director of the Women’s Center Jane Goettsch said students and parents think emergency call lights will help reduce the risk of sexual assault because they assume rapists are only, “these strangers hiding behind the bushes,” rather than a possible acquaintance of the student.
“When you think about that stereotype, you’re going to think about more call boxes and more lights would be a way to address that,” Goettsch said. “Not that that doesn’t happen, but it’s a small portion of sexual assaults. Bright lights and call boxes are not going to do anything to reduce ones risk of sexual assault by an acquaintance.”
In the police’s summer survey, 95 percent of respondents answered “yes” when asked if they feel safe on Miami’s campus, and 95 percent of students have responded, “yes” since 2005 when the university police began taking the survey.
McCandless said students and parents who come to the police department with concerns about safety are mostly concerned about types of crimes, like crimes between strangers, which are fairly infrequent at Miami.
“Our crime statistics don’t always represent perception,” McCandless said. “For example, if you take sexual assaults, our sexual assaults nearly exclusively occur in either the victim’s room or the accuser’s room, and the common thread is both parties have typically been drinking. Although we get them as a rarity, very infrequently do we get them as a stranger assaulting someone walking across campus.”
First-year Bethany Flannigan said she remembers her mom being concerned about campus safety when she was looking for a college, but said she does not remember seeing any call lights around campus.
“I honestly don’t know where they are,” she said.
Flannigan said she likes having Nighttime Door-to-Door as an option for safe campus travel and thinks Miami students are generally safe when traveling at night.
“People use the buddy system a lot,” Flannigan said.
McCandless said MUPD does an average of 300 safety programs annually for a total of 13,000 to 17,000 people. McCandless said the safety tips the police teach, like walking in groups, are useful and allow people to feel safe, but the most important way to reduce your risk is to not engage in high-risk drinking behavior.
“What I tell parents at orientation, the possibly of your son or daughter being beaten up when walking home from the library are very slim,” McCandless said. “The possibilities of getting beat up go way up if your student engages in high risk drinking. We tie a lot of bad things that happen on campus to alcohol use and overuse.”
Sophomore Meka Clifford said most crimes are related to alcohol use. She said she witnessed two students she knew being assaulted by an intoxicated student when walking home. She said the intoxicated student assaulted the two students for being gay and holding hands.
She said students at Miami can be in more danger for being gay and walking at night than for being a woman and walking home at night.
“Usually if you’re just a girl walking by yourself you’re fine,” she said.