Officials look to improve safeguards against rape


Prior to April 27, University police had yet to receive a report of criminal sexual conduct on campus during 2008.

In the weeks that followed, four students reported being raped, and one molested, University Police Chief Greg Hestness said.

The incidents account for the most rapes that have been reported on campus by June in at least four years, according to UMPD statistics.

University administrators, including Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart, are now faced with the difficult task of determining what should be done to prevent these crimes from happening in the future.

“I would hope this is simply a blip, and not a trend, but I think we all have to look at it as an opportunity to really make sure we’ve done everything we can, and have plans in place to make things better,” Rinehart said.

No easy solutions

At the end of last semester, many residence halls increased the presence of security monitors in reaction to the assaults, Rinehart said.

It’s likely no permanent security upgrades will be made until later in the year, but many ideas for changes are already floating around campus.

After a woman reported being raped in Pioneer Hall last month, Hestness and other administrators met with students in the residence hall to discuss safety.

Hestness said the meeting was slimly attended by students, and included him, student monitors and representatives from Central Security, Student Affairs and the Aurora Center.

KSTP reported that a meeting took place two weeks ago in which University administrators discussed upgrading security measures, but University spokeswoman Patty Mattern said no such meeting took place.

There will, however, be meetings beginning in June between Housing and Residential Life, campus security, public safety officials and other administrators that will focus on ways to combat further sexual assaults, Rinehart said.

He was unsure if students will be involved in these discussions.

Some of the ideas suggested so far, Hestness said, are putting locks on bathroom doors and installing more surveillance cameras in the residence halls.

Some residence halls implemented locking bathroom doors a few years ago, but the idea was scrapped at the protest of students, Hestness said.

But installing more cameras might be easier said than done.

With a building such as Pioneer Hall, which has 18 exits, bringing in security cameras might be financially unrealistic right now, Hestness said.

In addition to the cost of the cameras, some of the old residence halls might not be electronically equipped to handle security cameras, he said.

In the meantime, there has been discussion of installing “prop alarms” on exits that would sound if a door were to be left open for too long to deter students from propping doors open, Hestness said.

However, this would still not prevent students from letting strangers into the residence halls.

“That only solves one problem of leaving a door unattended for an extended period where anyone could walk through it,” Hestness said.

Introducing a check-in system at the front desk of residence halls is “subject for discussion,” he said.

Hestness said he’s suggested that Central Security and Housing and Residential Life put together a multi-year plan to improve security in the residence halls.

When it comes to upgrading on-campus security measures, it’s important to bear in mind the conditions students are willing to live under, Rinehart said.

“We don’t want to have a residence hall be like getting on a flight for an airplane,” Rinehart said. “But there are sacrifices that sometimes we have to make in terms of convenience in order to ensure the security.”

The sexual assault in Pioneer Hall more than a month ago was the first report of stranger rape on campus in about four years, University police Lt. Chuck Miner said.

The three rapes reported since then were acquaintance rapes, and all occurred in residence halls, University police said.

Since they were acquaintance rapes, and not seen as an ongoing threat to the community, no e-mail alert notifications were sent out, Miner said.

The molest report also occurred in a residence hall, Middlebrook Hall. The victim awoke in her unlocked room to find someone touching her.

She told UMPD she could not identify a suspect, so it is unclear whether it was a stranger or acquaintance, Hestness said.

There are currently no leads on the Pioneer or Middlebrook Hall incidents, Hestness said.

Miner said sexual assaults are often underreported. It’s possible that reporting has increased in reaction to the highly publicized Pioneer Hall incident, he said.

Some of the alleged sexual assaults occurred nearly a month prior to when they were reported, he said.

Another stranger rape was reported in the Como neighborhood on May 4 in which a victim jumped out of a second-story window to escape her attacker. Since the incident occurred off campus, it is not included in the UMPD statistics.

Minneapolis police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia was not aware of any updates in the case, he said.

MPD statistics show no other rape reports this year in the University or Como neighborhoods as of April, but four in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood and one in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

UMPD investigators have seen no pattern in any of the sexual assaults and have no reason to expect to see them continue to increase this fall, Miner said.

– Andy Mannix is a senior staff reporter.