11/05/2013 12:09 pm ET

UMass-Amherst Students Want Answers Following Campus Rape Report (VIDEO)

AMHERST, Mass. -- Students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are questioning why it took nearly two months for them to find out about an alleged sexual assault on campus.

Patrick Durocher, 18, of Longmeadow was charged with aggravated rape in connection with an alleged attack on Sept. 2 outside the Campus Center.

"I had no idea that it even occurred,” said UMass senior Chelsea Suhoski. "I'd like to know so I can take precautions. I’m really disappointed, it’s a huge deal."

University officials did not send out a campuswide e-mail in connection with the September incident and there were no media reports on the alleged attack until the week of Oct. 24.

"In this case, the police department responded promptly to the scene and the suspect was identified, so the police determined that there was no ongoing threat to the campus community," said UMass spokesperson Daniel Fitzgibbons.

Many UMass students reported not seeing the news reports and said they depend upon university emails to inform them when there are alleged criminal incidents on campus.

"It's kind of an important thing to tell people,” said sophomore Abramo Giannetti. "to at least warn them.”

The Dean of Students and the police are tasked with informing the university community about campus incidents. They weigh whether there is an immediate, ongoing threat when deciding whether and when to send campus-wide emails. Last year’s alleged gang rape at Pierpont Residence Hall prompted university officials to conduct a press conference because the incident was considered so heinous.

Members of the UMass community also received an email from the chancellor last October when four Pittsfield men were arrested in connection with a rape in the Southwest residential area of campus. The chancellor's email briefly outlined the details of the incident and the UMass Office of News and Media Relations later sent out a press release on Oct. 22, 2012.

“The police identified the suspects early on but the investigation was ongoing,” said Fitzgibbons. "Because the alleged perpetrators had apparently circumvented residence hall security, the campus administration determined that public announcements should be made after the arrests were completed."

Fitzgibbons also added that each of these events involved different circumstances.

"There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for crime alerts or other communications as they must often be tailored to the circumstances of the incidents,” Fitzgibbons said. "In some cases, the suspected assailants were known and that information shaped how the police proceeded."

Out of 12 students interviewed for this story, only two understood the university's reasoning for not informing the campus community about the Sept. 2 incident.

"I think it was a good choice in part of UMass not to notify the campus,” said Senior Michelle Shabo for one thought it was a good choice for UMass to not notify the campus.

"It makes it more difficult for the victim to live their life and assimilate back into their community," Shabo said.

However, many other students feel as though they should have received some sort of notification.

"I can see the reasoning behind the administration not publicizing what happened, taking into account what happened last year," said sophomore Parisa Zarringhalam. "That still doesn't make it a good idea or make it less damaging to not say anything because a university of this size needs to be open with these kinds of things."

This article was presented in partnership with investigative journalism students at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.



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