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Miami University: Five sexual assaults not the work of a serial rapist, despite social media claims

Posted at 3:20 PM, Sep 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-27 02:30:10-04

OXFORD, Ohio -- Contrary to rumors of a campus serial rapist circulating on social media, Oxford police said Wednesday they have no reason to believe a recent series of reported sexual assaults at and around Miami University are related.

The university received five reports of sexual assaults involving students between late August and Wednesday, spokeswoman Claire Wagner said. Three took place off-campus; two took place in unspecified residence halls. 

"(Assault) seems to be very prevalent across all aspects of our community and not just our community, our nation in general," student Colin White said. "So, it's a scary, scary thing."

It spooked one local Facebook user enough to make a post alleging the existence of "a serial rapist on the loose on Miami University's campus" and questioning the lack of press coverage surrounding the incidents. She also shared a Snapchat screenshot repeating the claim, posted a description given by one victim of their assailant -- a brown-haired man standing around 5-feet-10-inches -- and claimed the same attacker was responsible for the other four,

More than 130 people had shared the post by Wednesday night, but Lt. Lara Fening said nothing about the five incidents suggested to the Oxford Police Department that they might have been committed by the same person. According to Wagner, the perpetrator was known by the victim in at least two of the five cases.

Both Fening and Wagner said police and university authorities take reports of sexual assault seriously -- hence the emailed alerts that sparked fear and confusion among some parts of the campus community.

"When we hear that there's been a potential sexual assault, as soon as we have enough information to put out a bulletin, we're compelled by law to do so," Wagner said. "As soon as we have enough who-what-where-when, even if a little bit of it is missing, we use what we can, and the university police email the entire campus -- faculty, staff, students -- an alert about the assault or the offense."

The missing pieces are likely what produced misapprehensions like the one in the Facebook post, she said. 

"You may have seen (that in) two of the safety bulletins, there weren't descriptions of the alleged perpetrator," she said. "Maybe that's why somebody was afraid about it being the same person, but that isn't necessarily the case. There's no evidence to indicate that."

Wagner and Fening encouraged anyone who has experienced a sexual assault to promptly report it to campus police. Miami University also hosts student-led programs such as It's On Us and Step Up to help create a campus community that supports assault survivors and actively combats rape culture.

According to federal data, Miami University does receive more reports of sexual assault than larger schools such as the University of Cincinnati. In 2016, the former received 26 reports; the latter received 15.

However, the number of reports does not necessarily correlate with the actual number of assaults. Many factors can influence a victim's decision to report or not report a sexual assault.

If you have information about campus attacks, call Miami University police (513-529-2222). For off-campus attacks, call Oxford police (513-524-5268).