Since September, eight victims have reported being raped on the campus of Georgia Southern University, but GS officials say they don’t believe any of the cases are related.
Also, recent in-classroom Title IX training sessions might explain the unusually high number of reports in the past few weeks. The sessions may have prompted some students to speak out, even about incidents that happened two years earlier, said John Lester, GS vice president of communications and marketing. Three of the eight rapes reported recently are said to have happened in 2017, according to incident reports from GS University Police.
“There is no reason to believe there is any connection between these latest reports,” he said. But, there may be “correlation between these reports and in-classroom Title IX training staff has done throughout this month.”
University police arrested two men in the past two months who were charged with rape. Conner Hawkin Kennedy, 19, of Turnpike Road in Claxton, was charged in a Sept. 8 incident at University Villas. And another, who was later found not guilty at trial, was arrested on rape charges stemming from an October 2018 incident at an undetermined location.
Of the three rapes that reportedly took place in 2017, two victims stepped forth and filed reports in early October this year, and a third reported a 2017 incident to police Oct. 22. However, aside from the 2018 case, four incidents have been reported to have taken place within the past two months.
“It's not uncommon for reporting of incidents to increase as awareness training increases,” Lester said.
A rape reported to have occurred Oct. 14 at Southern Pines Apartments was classified as “unreportable” due to the victim declining to seek an investigation, according to GS police reports.
A victim reported being raped Oct. 15 at Freedom’s Landing. Incident reports stated clothing and a rape kit were collected after the victim went to the Teal House, a sexual assault counseling center in Statesboro, but the victim declined to pursue the investigation.
The Statesboro Herald requested incident reports regarding a rape reported Oct. 19 at Centennial Place and the rape reported Oct. 23 at Freedom’s Landing (dated 2017), but as of Friday, the university had not filled those requests.
However, Lester did share information about these two cases.
The incident reported Wednesday reportedly took place in 2017 at Freedom’s Landing.
“Police have interviewed the complainant but have yet to be able to interview anyone else involved,” he said.
Of the rape reported Oct. 19, said to have happened at a Centennial Place apartment, he said: “We can tell you the complainant met the accused off campus. The incident reportedly occurred in the complainant's on-campus apartment. University police are actively investigating this incident and do not believe the accused is a Georgia Southern student.”
In spite of frequent Statesboro police reports about shootings, robberies and entering autos in areas just outside the GS campus, Lester said the university has a “recent ranking (90th) as being among the 100 (most) secure campuses in the country.”
“We are diligent about enforcement and prevention. Student security is our top priority, and we are committed to creating an environment where all students feel safe,” he said. “All of our students are exposed to sexual assault awareness starting from their first orientation on campus.”
Most might equate rapes with female victims, but that is not always the case. According to Jodi K Caldwell, Ph.D., a past chair of the GS Sexual Assault Response Team, “all educational programs focus on the reality that sexual violence is not specific to any one gender identity. Individuals of all gender identities can be the victims of sexual violence.”
Prevention and education
Often, sexual assault cases involve drugs and/or alcohol. However, any victim’s inebriation level does not negate that rape is a crime and is the offender’s fault, not the victim’s.
“It is important to remember that the responsibility of preventing assault is on the potential perpetrator,” said Lauren O. Patterson, Psy.D., chair of the GS Sexual Assault Response Team. “Ultimately, the perpetrator is the only person that can prevent a sexual assault from occurring. Sexual violence is never the victim’s fault.”
Most rapes and sexual assaults are not committed by strangers, she said. More often than not, the offender is at least an acquaintance of the victim.
Citing statistics from the RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) website (www.rainn.org), Patterson said, “It is also important to consider that 8 in 10 sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim. … Therefore, risk reduction strategies may not be effective in many situations.”
However, there are ways to make your environment safer. This includes watching out for each other.
“Individuals can help reduce the incidence rates of sexual violence by practicing good bystander intervention,” she said. “If a person sees something they believe may put another person at risk of being sexually assaulted, they are encouraged to intervene.”
Some tips for practicing good bystander intervention include remembering the “C.A.R.E.” acronym, which stands for “Create a distraction, Ask directly, Refer to an authority, or Enlist others to help you,” she said. More about the C.A.R.E. acronym can be found on the RAINN website.
The definition of rape is simple — forced sexual intercourse. The phrase “no means no” is familiar to most, but in some cases a victim may be unable to consent due to a number of reasons, including possible inebriation. Only a clear-minded “yes” is consent.
“It is also important that individuals understand the definition of consent and non-consent, including how to ask for it and when it cannot be given,” she said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.