(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Many Winthrop University students have expressed concern about campus safety after a female student was held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted outside her apartment building on the edge of campus Feb. 15.
Winthrop President Dan Mahony and Wes Wiles, assistant chief of Campus Police, spoke to the Palmetto Report about the assault, student concerns and how the university is responding.
Mahony said university staff are working to provide support to the victim and improve campus safety.
“It’s always tragic. I mean, when those things happen and you just feel for the victim. I think that’s the first thing you think about and wanting to get assistance to her,” Mahony said.
Two forums on campus safety were held on campus, which included Mahony and representatives from the Office of Victims Assistance (or OVA), Campus Police and the Rock Hill Police Department.
The OVA is a resource that provides counseling and service to survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, bullying and other crime.
“It’s really a resource available for students who feel that they need some support, they’ve either been victims or are concerned about safety. It’s a place that they can go to and get some support that they may need at that time,” said Mahony.
He said Winthrop attempts to keep an open dialogue about campus safety throughout the year and give students and faculty an opportunity to provide feedback and share their ideas with officials.
“I think there’s always a tendency after something horrible happens to focus on it then and then forget about it a month from now,” said Mahony.
“I think what we’ve been trying to do, 12 months of the year, is think about where can we improve lighting, where can we put in more cameras, what can we do to better educate students about what to do if something happens,” he said. “I think we have more resources than students may realize.”
Mahony said he would like to see more students become active in campus safety discussions, because he wants to hear what students think is necessary to protect the Winthrop campus.
A number of students, especially on social media, were critical of how the investigation was handled and Wiles responded to the criticism .
“It wasn’t something where we were actually, physically called out there (to the crime scene),” said Wiles.
The victim reported the crime at the Campus Police office, Wiles said, and officers rendered assistance to her.
“We found out where it actually happened at, so we called Rock Hill (Police), because we knew that they would do the investigation,” Wiles said.
Since the assault did not technically occur on the Winthrop campus, the crime and investigation falls within the jurisdiction of Rock Hill police.
However, Wiles said Winthrop offers students a number of services related to safety.
“The escorts that we provide, the constant patrol of campus that we provide, the safety education programs, risk awareness (events); I mean, we’ve done, this year alone, over 50 by the time this happened,” he said.
Wiles said he encourages students to reach out to Campus Police with any questions about safety or services.
Taylor Evans, Spencer Langston and Caroline Riggs contributed to this story.