tampabay.com

UT says it erred in wake of rape

The student paper should have been told, school officials say.

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published February 18, 2007


TAMPA - University of Tampa officials say they should have informed the student newspaper earlier of a rape on campus after the Gasparilla parade, but the assault didn't merit extreme precautions or alerting all students.

"The question at first was: Is it date rape? We don't go into a security alert for a date rape," UT spokesman Grant Donaldson said Saturday. "That's not called for."

Though some students expressed outrage that school officials didn't notify them immediately, others suggested that the victim brought trouble on herself by drinking too much, leaving her friends and allowing a stranger into her room.

Still, Donaldson said, the university failed to alert the newspaper in a timely manner and officials will review policies related to releasing information about similar events.

The rape occurred Jan. 26, when a man escorted a drunken student to her UT dorm room. The man, whose blurred image was captured by security cameras, fled the room when another student showed up. The young woman reported the assault to police soon after.

The incident was not immediately reported in the campus security log and the student newspaper staff wasn't notified until several days later.

An editorial in Friday's edition of the Minaret said withholding the assault from the public "is clearly in violation of federal laws" and "puts all students in jeopardy by not allowing them to realize they need to take extra precautions with their safety."

Some students were incensed that the rape wasn't reported sooner. "I think the whole student population should be made aware of it as soon as possible," said freshman Kaylin Wilkin, 18.

Many knew nothing of the incident until the weekly newspaper hit stands Friday.

"I think the university is just trying to cover its a--," said senior Manuella Francois, 21.

Not true, said Donaldson.

"This was a situation where the student had met this guy and invited him in that building. We wouldn't have immediately informed the students of a situation like that," he said. "But we should have informed the weekly newspaper."

Some students appreciated that approach. Junior Elizabeth Mann, 21, said there's no reason to scare students if the crime doesn't warrant the level of concern that, for instance, an outsider breaking into a dorm to rape students would.

"It stinks that it happened, but she invited him into her room," Mann said.

"You should always assume that you're unsafe," said junior Stephanie Jenkins, 20. "They teach us from the time we're 15 to avoid things like that."

The rape was the second to occur during the annual Gasparilla parade, which drew 400,000 people this year.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813-661-2443.