UMass-Amherst reviewing dorm security procedures after report of rape
AMHERST -- Students and staff at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst were on alert and concerned about current dormitory security measures on Tuesday following the report of a rape of an 18-year-old female student in her dorm room earlier this month.
Four Pittsfield teenagers pleaded not guilty to rape charges on Monday in a Belchertown courtroom. Since the accused don't attend UMass, that has university students and officials concerned about security at dormitories.
"I always walk with at least two or three girlfriends at night," said Courtney Blount, a 19-year-old UMass sophomore from Boston. "It was terrible what happened and it makes me angry that someone signed those guys in without knowing them."
It appears that UMass safety protocols were followed when three of the Pittsfield teenagers were signed in to the dorm, which requires a UMass student to declare them as guests, according to UMass police. Authorities are investigating how the fourth suspect, who wasn't named, got in because he was apparently not signed in to the dorm.
A full review of the procedure is expected, UMass Amherst Police Chief John Horvath said on Monday.
Starting at 8 p.m. daily, a security monitor is stationed at the entrance to each of the residence halls and stays until midnight on weekdays and 3 a.m. on the weekends, Horvath said. In UMass dormitories, stairwells and elevators require security keycard access, and all of the dorm rooms have individual key locks. The alleged victim's room was apparently unlocked, and the suspects, who knew her, apparently let themselves in, according to police.
UMass students are allowed four guests per night. Each must be signed in by someone they know and be escorted while inside the building.
Amelia John-Schonfeld, 21, a UMass student and a resident adviser, told The Eagle she couldn't comprehend how the security measures could be breached or compromised.
"Every one of the student monitors is well-trained and there's plenty of security in place to prevent this from happening," John-Schonfeld said. "It's so sad that something like this could happen on our campus."
John-Schonfeld added that all the residence staff is meeting tonight to discuss what happened and how to prevent it in the future.
"We want to improve guest visibility to ensure this never happens again," she said.
On Monday, UMass notified students, faculty and staff of the alleged Oct. 13 sexual assault.
In a statement to the campus community, UMass-Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote that "maintaining a safe learning and living community is of the utmost importance to our campus. We will not tolerate this violent behavior."
Subbaswamy stated the alleged victim and her family are receiving support from campus resources.
Ed Blaguszewski, the executive director of news and media relations at UMass, told the Eagle that, so far this year, there have been four forcible sex offenses reported to UMass Police. All were reported as forcible rapes.
In 2011, there were 13 forcible sex offense reported to UMass officials, four of which were classified as forcible rape inside a residence hall, according to the school's annual security report. In 2010, there were three forcible rapes reported.
This is the second time within the last two years that the UMass administration has formally announced a comprehensive review of its policies in the aftermath of an alleged rape.
According to the university's newspaper, the Daily Collegian, UMass officials in 2010 admitted to improperly sanctioning a student who allegedly confessed to raping a 2009 UMass graduate in her on-campus residence.
This discovery prompted UMass to create a special commission, whose job it was to review the student code of conduct, particularly regarding its sexual misconduct policies. The commission looked to develop minimum sanctions for perpetrators of serious offenses, which would allowed victims to appeal the sanctions of the alleged perpetrators, the Collegian reported.
The punishment for the alleged rapist in the 2010 incident was viewed by the UMass community as not severe enough when the story was reported by the Boston Globe and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting that year.
According to attorneys for the Pittsfield men -- 18-year-olds Adam Liccardi, Emmanuel Bile Jr. and Justin King, and 17-year-old Caleb Womack, the alleged victim had consumed some amount of alcohol beforehand. Citing police reports, the defense attorneys stated once the victim returned to her dorm room, she, the four teens and two other girls, presumably friends of the victim, were drinking heavily and smoking marijuana.
When Blount learned that the victim's friends had left her alone, she said she was "disgusted."
"I never leave my friends alone at night, especially if any of them had had alcohol," Blount said. "Her friends never should have left her alone with those guys."
Horvath said the alleged victim reported the incident at about 11 p.m. on Oct. 14. Upon receiving the report, campus police began an investigation to determine if the general campus community was in danger.
Horvath said there wasn't a danger and decided to delay sending out any kind of notification to "maintain the integrity of the investigation." All four teenagers were arrested in Pittsfield on Friday.
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