Series of attacks rattle community
University holds press conference with more information on three separate incidents of sexually, bias motivated attacks
Between Sept. 17-19, three University students were attacked in separate instances. Two of the assaults occurred in the Chancellor Street area by the Corner, while the other took place at an undisclosed fraternity house.
Dean of Students Allen Groves distributed a University-wide e-mail at 11 p.m. Tuesday in which he alerted students about the string of attacks. Afterward, University Police and the Office of Student Affairs held a press conference yesterday afternoon to address questions about the assaults and the University's delayed response.
The first incident occurred at about 1:15 a.m. Sept. 17. In the Chancellor Street area, an unidentified white male attacked a female University student from behind as she was walking to her residence. The perpetrator sexually assaulted the victim, and Charlottesville Police officers investigating the incident, Groves stated in the e-mail.
The second incident occurred at about 1:30 a.m. the next day. Fourth-year College student Sean Bugg was physically assaulted near the Bank of America on the Corner as he was walking home. Groves said a 5-foot-10 black male about 20 years old jumped out of a Ford and then punched and knocked the student to the ground. The attack is believed to have been motivated by the student's sexual orientation, according to the e-mail.
The third incident occurred at a Sept. 19 fraternity party. An unidentified white male pushed a female University student into a pantry and attempted to sexually assault her, according to the e-mail. The student's friends heard her screams and opened the pantry door, prompting the assailant to flee on foot.\nGroves emphasized that he did not want to notify the student body until he had reliable factual information.
"There is always some degree of tension" between releasing information as quickly as possible and making sure the information is factual rather than speculation, he said.
Regarding the Sept. 17 assault, Groves said members of his office first received indications that the incident had occurred 11 hours after it happened. That afternoon, his office reached out to the president of the victim's sorority and began attempts to gain direct information about the incident. His office continued to meet about the incident without direct knowledge from the victim, who was not yet ready to discuss what happened, Groves said.
In regards to the Sept. 19 assault, Groves said his office still has "very incomplete information." His office, at the time of the press conference, did not know the identity of the victim or the particular fraternity house in which the attack occurred. Groves said the incident was reported to his office by the victim's mother, who declined to identify her daughter. Others present at the party did not know the assailant, Groves said, although he appeared to be about the age of a college student.
Groves called the crimes "fairly brazen attacks," both for their motivations and for their proximity to hubs of student social life at the University.
Bugg, the victim of the Sept. 18 attack, said he was especially shocked that the attack took place near Chancellor Street because it is so heavily populated by students. He does not know whether his attacker was a student.
"As much trust as I have lost in the Charlottesville community, it would be even worse if it was a student," he said.\nArts & Sciences Graduate student Gillian Breckenridge, who lives on Chancellor Street, agreed that not only the nature but also the location of the attacks were causes for concern.
"You just don't think about the Corner being dangerous," Breckenridge said. "It's just surprising because you think of it as a student area."
University Police Lt. Melissa Fielding said it is "important for members of the community to be aware and exercise precautions" by trusting your instincts, removing yourself from suspicious situations and contacting police. She emphasized, however, that her warnings are not intended to place blame on the victims and that University Police merely "want the community to be more aware" that these attacks can happen.
Both Charlottesville and the University offer resources for students who have been attacked. The Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville offers support, advocacy and counseling to victims of sexual assault. "We're here for people whether they were assaulted yesterday or years ago," said Executive Director Margaret Mikkelsen. Additionally, the University encourages students to use the resources provided through Counseling and Psychological Services.
Although Bugg is less confident about the greater Charlottesville area, he said he feels the University community itself is safe.
"The University as a whole needs to make it very well known that violence, intolerance, prejudice and discrimination are not acceptable," Bugg said. "Our community needs to take a very firm stance on it. There need to be conversations on how we can proactively and positively take a stance"