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USF Urges Caution Following Two Sexual Assaults

10-9 USF Sexual Battery
Mark Schreiner
WUSF 89.7 News

Police at the University of South Florida continue investigating a pair of sexual attacks reported in residence halls on the Tampa campus. And while authorities say the incidents are apparently unrelated, they're also encouraging students to be cautious, but not afraid.

University police have yet to file charges in this past Sunday morning's incident in Epsilon Hall, where a woman alleges she was attacked by a man she knows.

They also continue seeking an unknown suspect who reportedly attacked a student in Kappa Hall on Sept. 19. The woman did not know her attacker, who's described as a white male, 18 to 22 years old, about 6 feet tall and 180 pounds with a muscular build and short black or shaggy brown hair.

USF Police Lieutenant Charlotte Domingo said her department is stepping up its presence in response to the attacks.

"The university police have responded by increasing our patrols in the residential area, increasing our visibility in that area, and making frequent, special checks of the residence halls, especially in the evening hours," Domingo said.

Both attacks took place in co-ed suite style residence halls, where a number of students of the same gender share an individual suite.

"One of the things we want to emphasize is that there are many safety features in place for students. If they use all of those safety features, it will help to enhance their safety," Domingo said. "We want students to always be aware of their personal safety and take precautions as they should to keep themselves safe."

All USF residence halls have two to three layers of security before people can get into a resident's room, including 24-hour keycard access and locked doors leading to suites and individual rooms. Non-resident guests also are required to have a resident escort them at all times.

"We have seen a noticeable change in student behavior with regard to not allowing students or others to follow them in and trying to keep the access card system working the way it was intended," said Ana Hernandez, dean of housing and residential education.

At the same time, Nanci Newton, director of the USF Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, pointed out that the University is not seeing an increase in sexual violence.

"What we're seeing is an increase in the percentage of victims who are willing to come forward and report the crime," Newton said.

Statistics appear to back this claim. While the number of sexual battery victims served by the Center declined from 40 in the 2010-11 academic year to 36 in 2011-12, the number of such cases reported to university police grew from 1 in calendar year 2011 to 4 so far this year.

Center officials also point out that 70 percent of the sexual battery cases they handle occur off campus.

University Police have asked anyone with information about the attacks to call 813-974-2628.

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