Rape on Campus: Too scared to tell

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Tulsa Police Department Sgt. Jillian Phippen told The Frontier she tried to convince the University of Tulsa in 2016 to tell students about the seriousness of a string of incidents. SHANE BEVEL/For The Frontier

Too scared to tell

Reports of the attacks began in the early hours of Feb. 18, 2016.

A University of Tulsa student woke up and found someone standing in the commons area of her dorm. The intruder fled after being spotted.

The university sent emails to the campus community warning students to keep their doors and windows locked because of a break-in.

That’s all students were told.

There was no mention that the victim was a female student, or that the male burglar had been touching her buttocks.

Or that he fled when she awoke.

Or that when he returned a minute later, she had to chase him out of her room.

From Feb.18, 2016, to Oct. 7, 2016, similar frightening encounters were reported by students on TU’s campus. Most of the students were female athletes or their roommates, and all of the intrusions were reported in the early hours of the morning.

Six days after Tulsa police arrested Luis Alberto Molina in connection with the incidents, TU officials held a panel to discuss the arrest and sexual assaults on campus.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Jillian Phippen heads the department’s sexual assaults unit, investigating sexual crimes involving victims 14 years of age and older. The university would not allow her on the panel, she told The Frontier. That did not stop her from attending.

When a student questioned why the sexual nature of the incidents weren’t flagged by the university, an administrator said TU shared all the information known at the time.

“I can answer that question,” Phippen said, standing up to address the students. “They knew. The University of Tulsa knew.

“We told them from the beginning. We’ve been working with them this whole time. We’ve been trying to get them to notify you.”

*****

Across the U.S., reports of sexual assaults have plagued college campuses. Colleges and universities have been criticized for not aggressively warning or educating students about the risks and how to report sexual harassment and assaults.

As of Nov. 29, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights — which can withhold federal funding from schools — had 350 open civil investigations at 253 colleges and universities for potentially mishandling reports of sexual violence.

Four Oklahoma universities are under investigation related to how they handle reports of sexual violence: Langston University, Oklahoma State University, University of Tulsa and Saint Gregory’s University at Shawnee.

Saint Gregory’s will close at the end of 2017 citing financial reasons.

“I’m convinced that you have a rape problem at every college and university in Oklahoma and certainly the U.S.,” said John Foubert, an Oklahoma State University professor and national expert on rape on college campuses.

Foubert founded One in Four, an organization that works to prevent rape on college campuses.

Studies suggest one in four college women experience rape or attempted rape at some point in their lifetime. Advocates embrace the statistic, insisting college rapes are vastly underreported. However, similar to most studies, it has critics, who say the problem is overstated.

Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Elmore oversees the Special Victims Unit for the Tulsa County District Attorney.

He is adamant that sexual attacks on college campuses need to be taken seriously. “It is not just boys will be boys. It is rape,” he said. “A big fear we found among young college students is that they won’t be believed or they will be labeled with all those wonderful tags that women sometimes get when they report.”

As for TU, the school’s handling of reported sexual assaults raised an outcry in 2016, and there have been significant changes. But they didn’t come easily.

*****

TU is a private university tucked away in the heart of the city. With a tuition of about $40,000 per year for its 4,500 students, it is revered for its law, engineering and business programs.

After students read the email alerts sent out in 2016 by TU officials following the initial reports, some thought it might have just been friends trying to prank each other.

Campus
The University of Tulsa's campus. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

“We didn’t really know what to make of it,” said Kayleigh Thesenvitz, a senior at the university and current editor of the Collegian, the school’s student newspaper.

“For a while we thought it was just like, maybe somebody’s friend going into their room and creeping them out then leaving. Because the way it was reported it was just like, they woke up and someone was standing over them. And that was it.”

The Clery Act requires all colleges and universities that receive federal funds to report crimes committed on campus. The federal law was named after Jeanne Clery, a student who was raped and murdered in her dorm by a fellow student on April 5, 1986.

The act was updated in 2013 by the Campus SaVE Act, which expanded Clery requirements to address all incidents of sexual violence, separating reports of rape and domestic violence from other crime statistics.

School officials must determine whether an incident is an immediate or ongoing threat, and then issue a timely warning for staff and students.

In the university’s crime log, the February 2016 report also failed to state the sexual nature of the incident.

“The student reported that when they woke up there was a subject standing in the commons area of their dorm room staring at them,” the campus report stated. “When the subject noticed they had woken up they ran out of the room.”




Another campus crime report stated just after 4 a.m. on April 8, 2016, a student reported an intruder “standing in their dorm room watching them and their roommate sleep.”

The report said the student did not identify or give a description of the intruder and the investigation was ongoing.

In contrast, a report by Tulsa police said the intruder entered the student’s dorm room through an unlocked but closed door and tickled her upper thigh as he crouched at the end of her bed. When she woke up, he left the room. She noticed underwear was missing and wondered if the intruder had taken it.




A TU crime entry from April 26 stated in the early hours of the morning university security investigated an intruder in the Mayo Village Apartments on campus. A student, who was unharmed, told them she woke up to a “suspicious person” in their bedroom. The suspect fled when the student screamed.

A court affidavit had a similar account, but noted the intruder stood over the student as she slept.

About 15 minutes after that incident, another student living in the same apartments reported an intruder in her room who fled when she woke up.

On Sept. 10, a student reported an intruder entered her apartment through an unlocked door and then opened her bedroom door. Reports said she was awake and aware of someone moving around in her apartment. He fled when she lifted her head. Again, TU’s report did not state it was a man in a woman’s room.

Phippen, who heads the unit investigating the case, said university officials downplayed the encounters by portraying them as break-ins.

“We kept telling them, ‘This is not aggressive enough,’” Phippen said. “We knew immediately after the first one, this is not a burglary.

“This is a sexual predator because he’s watching her sleep. If he’s watching her now, he’s probably taking panties, he’s probably then going to touch her.”

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Tulsa Police Department Sgt. Jillian Phippen said the University of Tulsa downplayed the incidents. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Phippen called a soccer coach at the university to alert him. He had coached Phippen when she attended Oral Roberts University.

“I told him this is serious,” she said. “Tell your players they need to lock their door, and they need to look out because this is a sexual predator. Something more is going on.”

Police say that on Oct. 7, 2016, Molina, 20, allegedly videotaped himself as he took the clothes off of an “extremely intoxicated” 22-year old woman, rubbed her vagina with his hand and then penetrated her with a cigarette.

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Luis Alberto Molina.

On Oct. 22, 2016, police took Molina into custody in connection with a series of alleged burglaries, rape and sexual assaults on the TU campus.

He now faces 26 charges, including one count of first-degree attempted rape, second-degree rape by instrumentation, outraging public indecency, four counts of sexual battery, 10 counts of peeping tom, blackmail and seven counts of first-degree burglary. He has pleaded not guilty.

Molina’s attorney declined to comment.

Two days after Molina’s arrest in October 2016, the university sent out a campus security alert via email.

“The University of Tulsa Campus Security has been working closely with Tulsa Police since last spring on incidents in which female students reported an intruder had entered their unlocked campus apartment or dorm room during the night,” the email said. “Two students reported being touched by the intruder.

“Each time, a campus-wide email was sent regarding the incident and reminding students to lock their doors.”

Meanwhile, a campus survey conducted for the 2015-2016 school year revealed about 9 percent of TU students experienced sexual violence while they were a student.

And because only 9 percent, or 424 students responded, to the online survey, the university admits that rate is likely an underestimation.

Of those students who did respond, the results were stark: 55 percent told no one they were sexually assaulted. More than half said it was because they were too ashamed. Nearly 27 percent thought nothing would be done.

"It’s a small campus and with social media, people say horrible things.” Tulsa Police Department Sgt. Jillian Phippen.

“It’s scary,” Phippen said. “They’re intoxicated. They wake up in a strange apartment. The humiliation. It’s a small campus and with social media, people say horrible things.”

A majority of students said they felt university leaders weren’t doing enough to protect students.

In June, Lesley Nchanji, a now-former university soccer player, was arrested on allegations that he raped a freshman track student. He currently faces two counts of forcible sodomy. One count for sexual battery is under appeal by the state. He has pleaded not guilty.

The allegations prompted Thesenvitz, the editor of TU’s student newspaper, along with former editor Hannah Kloppenburg, to email a letter to the university’s president requesting more effective sexual assault prevention programming.

“While TU’s approach to sexual assault prevention and related programming has improved in the past few years, the current programming is largely ineffective and we still have a ways to go,” the letter stated.

Gerard Clancy became the university’s president after the 2016 spree of assaults and burglaries. He refused requests from The Frontier for an interview. Instead, the school sent prepared remarks from a July 14 email sent to faculty and staff.

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Kayleigh Thesenvitz said university administrators have made strides in improving how they handle reports of sexual assault. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

It states the university has taken measures to address sexual violence, including hiring a violence prevention coordinator, a security officer to work with female victims and a Title IX coordinator.

Thesenvitz praised the university’s recent efforts to address sexual violence on campus, but told The Frontier it still has a ways to go. “In the past, I think TU always tried to keep things under wraps, and that’s part of the problem,” she said.

Thesenvitz said she believes campus leaders, including Clancy, were receptive to hear the Collegian leaders’ ideas during a sit-down meeting following the letter’s publication.

“Clancy has been a great change for the university on a lot of things,” she said. “On sexual assault, on veterans stuff, so quite a few changes. All for the good.”

The Collegian has long covered the issue of sexual assault on campus, but during the fall semester the paper started running a weekly advertisement with resources for survivors of sexual assault. In addition, the weekly paper is prioritizing any news on sexual assault as front-page coverage, Thesenvitz said.

Phippen has been working with TU to alert students more quickly about predators on campus and to ensure the Tulsa police are notified.

"It has gotten much better. I do believe (Clancy) is taking an aggressive stance of this." TPD Sgt. Jillian Phippen

Some students believe a report to campus security is the same as reporting to the Tulsa Police. It is not.

“Young people don’t have a lot of experience, some are coming from a different country even. We suggested when TU has orientation, they need to make it very clear to contact the Tulsa Police Department,” Phippen said.

She, too, has seen improvements in how the university handles reported sexual assaults. When an assault is reported, the university now calls her directly.

“It has gotten much better,” Phippen said. “I do believe (Clancy) is taking an aggressive stance of this. We’re very happy with that.”

Carrie Hulsey-Greene, an Oklahoma State University spokeswoman, said it’s difficult, if not impossible, to estimate the number of unreported rapes on campus.

“I can tell you the university takes the underreporting statistic very seriously and has worked diligently to ensure it invests properly into educational programs and human resources to address sexual assault and dating violence and support survivors,” she said.

Oklahoma State is trying to ensure resources are available to students and has added a sexual assault prevention specialist to its student conduct office.

The University of Oklahoma also has its own sexual assault guidelines.

“OU provides a number of confidential resources that encourages students to report incidents of sexual assault,” said Rowdy Gilbert, senior associate vice president for public affairs for the university.

OU’s police department is currently investigating several reports of sexual assault on the university’s campus. On Oct. 11, a student reported she was raped. The department also received one report of rape and one of attempted rape on Nov. 18 and Nov. 26.

It’s unclear how colleges and universities will approach reports of sexual assault in the future.

In September, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said her department would rewrite the rules for how universities investigate campus sexual assaults in an effort to give schools more freedom and to treat accused students more fairly.

“Through intimidation and coercion, the failed system has clearly pushed schools to overreach,” DeVos said. “With the heavy hand of Washington tipping the balance of her scale, the sad reality is that Lady Justice is not blind on campuses today.

“Every survivor of sexual misconduct must be taken seriously. Every student accused of sexual misconduct must know that guilt is not predetermined.”

While advocates for victims say the new rules will weaken the way schools respond to sexual assaults and discourage students from reporting, proponents of the rule changes believe they will make the process more balanced for the accused.

Schools are now waiting for instruction from the federal government, and in the meantime were issued an interim guidance on how to respond to reports of sexual assault.

Foubert insists it is not totally up to the institutions to protect students. They need to stay alert and help one another. He cited a study in which 56 percent of students said they had seen someone at a party leading an intoxicated friend down a hall.

“They didn’t do anything,” Foubert said. “If you asked students would they intervene, a huge majority would say, ‘Yes.’

“But if you ask them, did they? ‘Well, no.’”

Bystander intervention can be critical.

“If you see a situation that could become a rape, worst thing that could happen (if it is not) is that you might be embarrassed, if you intervene,” Foubert said.

“The worst thing that can happen if you don’t do anything and you are right, someone has a trauma that’s going to take a whole lot of time to get over — if at all.”


Reporters: Kassie McClung and Mary Hargrove | Photos: Shane Bevel and Dylan Goforth |
This story is part four in a five-part series. Click on the “Shadow Land” logo to go to the series landing page.

Coming Friday: Part Five — Rape legislation, like all bills, is subject to the whims of powerful legislators. When one rape victim clashed with the head of a committee, her two bills died. But one was resurrected at the last minute by an unexpected ally.

“Those mountain tops are big moments that keep you going in the low moments,” she said. “And there are a whole lot of low moments.” — Rape survivor Danielle Tudor

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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