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UMBC Students Unload About Sexual Assault

Since two women sued the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore County and others earlier this month for allegedly failing to properly investigate their reports of sexual assault, others have come forward with similar complaints.

Thursday, students crowded into an auditorium on campus to tell UMBC president Freeman Hrabowski and other college administrators about the problems they’ve had trying to report sexual assaults.

They lined up in the aisles for their chance at the microphone to open up about what they said were horrifying events in their life.

And for one woman, something that wasn’t fully in the past.

"I’d like to address a problem I’m currently having with the Title IX office," said Elizabeth Hawkins, 21, from Boonsboro.

She said she filed a complaint about a sexual assault in February and "went through a series of interviews," but hasn’t heard anything about the investigation since May.

Hawkins said she was a chemical engineering major in the honors college, but has been afraid to return to classes, not knowing if she would see her attacker on campus. 

Others shared allegations similar to those in the suit filed Sept. 10 in US District Court in Baltimore.

They charged that UMBC protects sexual predators, that investigators of sexual assault complaints aren’t held accountable, that they don’t feel safe on campus. And they called for the firing of campus police chief, Paul Dillon.

They wondered if the alleged rapists in the lawsuit would have been treated differently if they’d been black, or hadn’t been university athletes. They suggested hiring a sexual trauma nurse or mandating sexual consent education. 

And some reminded college administrators they had been told about these problems before.

One young woman said she’d been raped by two men in the women’s locker room.

"Last semester, I went to the gym and took a shower in the girls’ locker room.  When I came out, there’s two men standing right in front of me fully nude," she said.

Outside the auditorium, she said she told Hrabowski about the attack earlier, but he hadn’t done anything. She said it was "infuriating" to see him shaking his head in empathy when this was a problem she’d already brought to his attention. 

"I reported the incident. They had it on video," she said. Campus authorities told her in an email "that it’s been taken care of and they’ll keep an eye out."

But that’s not enough, she added. "I hate this school and I can’t wait to leave."

Hrabowski, however, said he never spoke to the woman.

"There’s no way I would hear this and not take action. For a fact – it’s not that I don’t recall it. There's no way I would hear this and not take action."

After news of the suit broke on Monday Hrabowski met with nearly 100 angry students who delivered a list of demands, including firing Dillon. The university issued a statement Tuesday saying they would focus on "listening so that we can build relationships and work together to develop and implement solutions that help us live out our community values."

Thursday’s session was part of the listening they promised.

Hrabowski, who has led the university for 26 years, agreed the institution needs to make changes to be sure the students "feel safe and secure." And he said administrators would work with the student organizations that hosted the listening session.

"Starting this week we will be looking at different recommendations they’ve made," he said. "There’s a lot we can do in a short period of time. Some of these things they’ve recommended are not unreasonable at all."

Despite that, students wondered why it took the administration this long to take sexual assault seriously. 

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.
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