Attempted sexual assault increases emphasis on campus safety

Melissa Burrowes, Staff Writer

SUNY Buffalo State is on alert after an attempted sexual assault happened in a Porter Hall dorm room during orientation week.

Elijah Bethel, 17, a freshman from Troy, NY, is being charged as an adult with first-degree sexual abuse, forcible touching, and second burglary after University Police said he entered another freshman’s dorm room and touched her while she was sleeping.

University Police Chief Peter Carey said the victim then “awoke, and she screamed and resisted and the person fled the room.”

“She was very strong and she was able to give us a good description and information, and the officers responding looked in the surrounding area and found someone matching that physical and clothing description,” Carey said.

He added that “the victim positively identified the person as the suspect” and that the two students did not previously know each other.

It’s still unclear how the suspect managed to get into the dorm room, said Carey.

“We’re still trying to determine that definitively. There was no forced entry, and the lock was operational, so we’re not sure if the door was not fully closed or how the person got into the room,” Carey said.

”I don’t know if it’s so much a question of it being common during orientation week, as opposed to, you know, how often does it happen throughout the year,” said Carey when asked how common sexual assaults were on orientation week. “In our annual security report where we report these incidents to the campus community, for the last three years I think we’ve had five or six sexual assaults in each of the calendar years.”

Carey said, however, that according to a preliminary report being released by the end of the month, Buffalo State has overall seen a decline in the number of sexual assaults on campus.

One of the ways students can prevent themselves from becoming a victim, said Carey, is to stay aware of what’s happening around them.

“Try not to put yourself in a position where you are vulnerable to a sexual assault, whether it’s walking on campus or off campus, by being aware of your surroundings and not wearing headphones and not be texting and doing other things that takes your attention from what’s going on around you,” he said.

Francesca Bond, a Porter Hall resident and freshman communication, agreed.

“It’s a horrible thing that happened but I don’t know if you’re going to be completely safe anywhere,” Bond said. ”You always have to be looking out for your own personal safety and just know what you can do if you think someone’s being suspicious, like with the blue buttons and calling the University Police.”

Carey said that staying safe extends to any companions a student might be with.

“Instead of being a bystander, we want people to be an upstander,” Carey said, adding that if students go out in a group they should “make sure and keep an eye on each other.”

“If you see one becoming overly intoxicated or under the influence of some other substance, help that person, protect that person, watch out for each other,” he said.

It’s also important to remember “affirmative consent must be obtained and must be continued to be obtained, and that silence or incapacitation by alcohol or sleeping is not a “Yes,” added Carey.

Carey said some ways the school is trying to prevent sexual assault include orientation programs, escort services and campaigns to reinforce the importance of getting consent before sexual activity. University Police also provide a free, nine-hour self-defense program called Rape Aggression Defense, or RAD.

“It’s a national program that’s conducted at many colleges and universities around the country, and we have a few officers trained as instructors and they provide basic self-defense techniques to male and female students,” said Carey, adding that the program is also available to faculty and staff.

There is no plan to install more security cameras on campus, however.

“Security cameras are a tool, but we don’t have the resources for someone to monitor them 24/7 and there’s now so many cameras it would take several people to monitor them,” said Carey. “More cameras I think are good investigative-wise, they’re good as a visible deterrent, but the point is they will not take the place of good personal safety measures of our students, good police patrol activities, good participation from our community members when they see something or someone suspicious.”

Most Porter Hall residents The Record spoke to said the school was doing all it could to keep students safe.

“I think they’re trying as hard as they can,” said Danielle Griffin, a freshman biology major. “You can’t really keep watch over everybody at once. I think it’s more our responsibility to try and be more respectful, take care of ourselves.”

“I felt pretty safe lately, no one’s really threatened me, tried to hurt me, so yeah. There’s RA’s on my floor too and they’re usually around so I guess I feel pretty safe,” Griffin said.

“We’re like young adults so what are they going to do, tell us you gotta stay in your room?” said Ayanna Sayles, a freshman media production major. “I kind of feel they’re doing the best they can, because we are young adults and they’re giving us freedom, but I guess they could up on our RA’s telling us ‘Come on guys, time to get in your own room’.”

Bond said that the school could probably be “a bit stricter about who they let in there, especially late at night.”

“I think it’s really a lot up to people to make sure their doors are closed too,” she added.


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