UNH Police Investigate Alleged Sexual Assault. Students Protest, Demand Action.

University of New Hampshire police confirmed Monday they are actively investigating an alleged sexual assault reported to have occurred inside a residence hall.

UNH Police Chief Paul Dean said on Friday, Oct. 15, a female student reported being sexually assaulted inside Stoke Hall, the school’s most-populated dormitory.

That unidentified victim is a university student who lives in Stoke Hall.

“We’re working with the survivor on the case and we’re protecting the privacy of the survivor and working with her on her timeline as she works with resources from SHARPP (UNH’s Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program) and other resources,” Dean said.

Protests, petition, social media posts and UNH president’s reaction

Over the course of the last few days, an online petition addressed to the school has received more than 5,400 virtual signatures. In it, a student is accused of “MULTIPLE acts of rape and assault against women.” Because that person has not been charged with a crime nor been cited as being under investigation by the school or university police.

That same student was also named in a public Instagram post from a non-UNH affiliated Instagram account called “unhchicks.” The post shows an email from a university student written out to WMUR saying that the student has “allegedly assaulted many women and is known around his residence hall (Stoke Hall) as someone who constantly gropes women.”

Monday afternoon, university president James W. Dean Jr. released a message condemning sexual assault at the school and said that the university works to prevent such incidents from occurring.

President Dean wrote: “For two reasons, it is difficult for people in our community to have an accurate understanding of what has happened and what the university has done in the aftermath of a report of sexual assault. First, the university does not publicly discuss the details of a sexual assault report because we respect the privacy of those involved, and so that we do not interfere with any investigation.

“Second, there is often a great deal of conversation on social media in the aftermath of a reported incident, and much of what is shared on social media is simply not true. These factors are relevant to the current incident, and to essentially all such incidents,” he continued.

Outrage in response to the petition and shared Instagram post led to a student-led protest Friday evening outside the residence of President Dean. As reported by UNH’s student newspaper, The New Hampshire, the protest then moved over to the front entrance of Stoke Hall.

Inside the building, Dean of Students Michael Blackman, a university police employee and a SHARPP representative were on hand to meet with residents of the building in light of recent allegations occurring within the hall. Blackman then reportedly stepped outside to speak with the crowd of roughly 100 protesters, who were chanting and some of whom were giving speeches.

Police investigation

Chief Dean did not identify a suspect in the department’s active sexual assault investigation. In regard to the online petition and social media posts that have circulated in recent days pertaining to allegations of sexual misconduct, he said that “people should be cautious of what they see and hear on social media involving the accuracy of things.”

“However, the students’ protesting is actually a great sign. That means there’s a conversation happening about sexual violence, and I think that’s an important conversation to have,” he said. “Their gathering was peaceful, well-intended and I’m very proud of how they carried themselves.”

Similarly, President Dean’s message Monday also advised students and community members to proceed with caution when viewing social media posts alleging sexual violence and misconduct.

“Please be cautious when using social media, particularly anonymous social media. Inaccurate information can spread quickly and spreading inaccurate or unverified information can contribute to feelings of confusion and fear,” he wrote. “In particular, some social media posts indicated that there was a series of sexual assaults related to the recent report or that there is an increase of incidents at UNH. While we are only aware of what is reported to us, we have no information at this time that either of these claims are true.”

School student body president Sophia Spina and vice president Alex Colella released a social media statement on Friday acknowledging the series of allegations that had been made.

“We have become aware of recent sexual assault allegations and stand with the survivors of sexual assault,” their Instagram post reads. “We are committed to creating a safer environment for everyone on this campus and will not tolerate or respect this kind of behavior. Our thoughts are with the survivors as they work through this difficult time.”

Members of the school’s Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution at their Sunday meeting insisting that school take “prompt” action regarding the allegations since “the student body is extremely impacted and outraged on a deep level by this most recent alleged incident of sexual assault.”

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network reports that college-attending women between the ages of 18 and 24 are three times more at risk of sexual violence than women of other age groups. Similarly, RAINN says that women between the ages of 18 and 24 who aren’t in college are four times more at risk of sexual violence than women of different ages.

Just one in five college women who are victims of sexual violence report it to law enforcement, RAINN says, also noting that more than half of all college sexual assaults occur in the fall semester between August and November.

Before students returned for the fall semester, the school sent out a timely warning to university students after an off-campus male student was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting two women in separate incidents later in the summer. After interacting with the women through dating apps Tinder and Bumble, the student was accused of sexually assaulting them at his Madbury Road apartment.

“We condemn all forms of assault here and we will do our best to make sure that when we have the information to address it appropriately,” Chief Dean said Monday of the department’s current investigation.


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