Under the radar

Late semester campus rape dodges headlines

During this year’s late-semester whirlwind at Chico State, as students prepared for summer vacation or graduation, a vicious on-campus sex crime went underreported.

On Sunday, May 3, between 2:10 and 2:25 a.m., a female student was sexually assaulted near the stop sign where College Drive meets the parking lot of Nettleton Stadium, just a few hundred feet from the Student Health Center, according to a campus-wide email alert dispatched to university faculty, staff and students May 8. “The assault consisted of a forcible act of sexual penetration,” the email reads.

The woman reported the crime May 7 and was able to give a description of her attacker, whom she said she did not recognize: a 6-foot-3-inch-tall white or Hispanic man in his early- to mid-20s with a muscular build and short brown hair. The email reports that the suspect ran south, toward the health building, after assaulting the woman.

The case is particularly troubling because “stranger rape” is much rarer than “acquaintance rape.” More than 80 percent of sexual assaults are committed by someone known to the victim, according to handouts printed by Chico State University Police and available through the school’s website.

As of Tuesday (May 26), campus police had made no arrests and have no leads or further details regarding the still-open investigation, said Joe Wills, the school’s director of public affairs.

The only media source to report the crime was the university’s student newspaper, The Orion, whose coverage consisted of a 100-word brief published May 10 online and in the semester’s last print issue, published May 13. There is no information about the crime available on university or campus police websites, and no press release was issued to local media.

“What we do is put out a message to faculty, staff and students, and that’s generally our protocol in a case with a victim [who’s] a student,” Wills said.

Yvonne Loomis, a sexual assault counselor at Chico’s Rape Crisis Center, said she sees some fault in that protocol, and is “disappointed” that the crime wasn’t more widely reported.

“There should be a press release including as much of a description as the victim can give,” Loomis said. “If that description had been released to the public, it could help people stay safe and possibly lead to his capture, as it did with [Lonnie Keith].”

Keith was sentenced to 29 years in prison last September for three rapes in the campus area, but is suspected in a dozen assaults that occurred between August 2011 and his arrest in January 2013.

“No college wants to have the reputation that their school is unsafe, but these crimes need to be made known and have a light shined on them, because the danger is out there,” she said. “It’s not just at Chico State but at every college campus, and across the street, and down the block and everywhere else.”

Loomis cited statistics indicating that 1 in 4 female college students have experienced sexual assault, and one-third of all women will experience it at some point in their lives. She noted men can also be victims.

As for changing the current protocol, Wills said it’s “a discussion that could be had with the university police chief, or with the new chief.” Former Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty has served as interim chief of the University Police since May 5, following Robyn Hearne’s December retirement.

“We definitely want to catch this guy,” Wills said.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is a federal law that requires colleges and universities to disclose information annually about criminal activity on and near campus. In 2011 and 2012, Chico State reported five forcible sex offenses (which can include rape, sodomy, sexual assault with an object and fondling). There were eight incidents reported in 2013, as well as one nonforcible sexual assault (which can include incest or statutory rape). Statistics for 2014 will be available by October.

Wills said Chico State takes sex crimes very seriously, and all incoming students will be required to participate in online training on sexual assault prevention called “Not Anymore” beginning this fall.