The Feb. 17 crime bulletin of a violent sexual assault on campus in broad daylight triggered a whirlwind of campus activity. Within days, a candlelight vigil and campus safety forum attracted hundreds of attendees — with the police office on and off campus operating around the clock.
Last Thursday, however, another bulletin appeared — the victim in the report admitted she fabricated the story, and a sexual assault had not occurred near the Quarry Amphitheater on Feb. 17.
UC Santa Cruz police chief Nader Oweis said he posted the update within hours of her confession.
“We basically threw every resource that we had — including the assistance of the city police department and the district attorney’s office — to investigate this crime,” Oweis said. “From the evidence that we gathered, it led us to having to ask her some more questions to validate the information that she gave us and that’s when we received that admission. It wasn’t [admitted] during an interrogation, it was through some follow-up questions.”
The case has been sent to the Santa Cruz County district attorney, who will determine whether to prosecute the woman. Almost all of the details of the case must remain undisclosed until the district attorney takes further action.
In light of Santa Cruz’s recent spike in violent crime, including the attempted homicide of a student at an off-campus bus stop, Oweis has maintained the increased patrols for the time being.
“Our community has a very deep sense of unease,” Oweis said. “Because of everything else that’s still continuing within the community, I just feel it’s prudent to keep the extra patrols, and that it may help us to prevent some of these types of crimes from reccurring.”
Sexual violence prevention educator Caitlin Stinneford has been working closely with the UCSC Police Department, as part of an ongoing effort to provide students and staff with the resources they need.
“I am very fortunate that the police here work very closely with my office … [sexual assaults] are the top crimes they focus on,” Stinneford said. “I think when more information is able to come out, students will feel a lot better.”
Stinneford said she finds that stranger rape is emphasized more than acquaintance rape, even though acquaintance rape occurs more often.
“We don’t want people who have had acquaintance assaults to be forgotten or for their assault to be considered not that big of a deal because it’s not so public,” Stinneford said. “We really wanted to make sure that the community felt supported, both in their fears around this particular thing but also that in general they knew they had support.”
Sarah Edelstein, an organizer for the candlelight vigil “Safe in the Dark” on Feb. 20, said the event was still valuable because the issue of rape culture still exists.
“[Safe in the Dark was] a discussion and hopefully the start of a much larger discussion about rape culture on our campus as a whole,” Edelstein said, “which is why when I found out that this was falsified, I realized that the [event] ended up being about so much more than just this incident … about hopefully starting a real dialogue on this campus about something that happens a lot more than we would care to admit and often happens and goes completely unreported.”
Edelstein said she hopes this falsified experience does not deter other victims from coming forth.
“I hope this doesn’t create more of a culture of denial and more of a culture of fear and of ignorance,” Edelstein said. “I hope that … other people who are victims of sexual assault are not now feeling [discouraged] from coming out about it, because they think they’ll be met with [disbelief].”
UCSC will have more opportunities to connect over the issue of sexual violence in April, which is sexual assault awareness month.
Students with concerns about
sexual violence may contact
the office of Sexual Assault Prevention
and Education at 831-459-2721, and the UCSC Women’s Center at
831-459-2169. The Rape Crisis
Hotline can be reached at 888-900-4232.