While alcohol-related crimes have been a consistent focus of police departments in and around ASU campuses, sexual assaults have also become a pressing issue.
Three unrelated incidences that occurred in September have prompted Tempe Police to issue a warning to the public on ways to stay safe and avoid assault.
All three incidences occurred in the Loud Party Corridor, an area east of campus where a majority of calls for service occur in Tempe, and Tempe Police said in a statement that all three involved alcohol.
On Sept. 21, a woman awoke to find a man fondling her breast after he had entered her apartment through an unlocked door. When she awoke, the man fled the apartment. Police have released a composite sketch but have yet to make an arrest.
The day before, Sept. 20, an underage woman reported having “a lot” to drink at a party and losing her memory. However, she did recall that at some point a man was on top of her having sex.
Then on Sept. 13, police said a 23-year-old man sexually assaulted a woman while holding her down in her closet and covering her mouth. Tempe Police said the man and the woman had been in a relationship in the past.
Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff said in a statement that the occurrence of these assaults in the Loud Party Corridor emphasizes the importance of Tempe Police’s recent patrol increases targeting loud parties and alcohol-related crimes.
In a report released at the end of August, Tempe Police detailed a high correlation between loud parties and the occurrence of other crimes, reporting that one-third of all sexual assaults in the city of Tempe in that past three years occurred within the Loud Party Corridor.
Tempe Police Sgt. Mike Pooley said the report also shows that alcohol and drugs have played a major role in those sexual assaults.
“A lot of it goes back to alcohol consumption and youth alcohol consumption,” he said. “We all know that when people drink alcohol, their ability to be rational, their ability to understand and comprehend the severity of their actions diminishes, and it creates problems.”
The report showed that between January and May of this year, 25 percent of sexual assaults were party-related, 71 percent involved alcohol or drugs and half of the assaults happened in the Loud Party Corridor.
With many ASU students living within the Loud Party Corridor, ASU Assistant Police Chief Jim Hardina stressed ways for students and people to stay safe and avoid assault.
“Lock your doors, let people know where you’re going, don’t talk to strangers (or) give out personal information,” he said.
These tips can only go so far in protecting oneself from sexual assault, because most assaults occur between acquaintances, Hardina said.
“Ninety-five percent of sexual assaults are acquaintances,” he said. “People hear sexual assault and think, ‘Oh my goodness; there (are) predators out there,’ and does that happen? Yes, but a majority of them … are caused by friends (or) people you know.”
With most assaults occurring between people who know each other, Hardina said alcohol often plays a key role and stressed the importance of alcohol safety and education.
“Virtually all sexual assaults that occur on campus are alcohol-related, and it’s typically both suspect and the victim are intoxicated and make unwise decisions,” he said. “They do things they probably wouldn’t have done had they not been drinking.”
Jasmine Lester, co-founder of a program, Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault, that’s made up of alumni working to helping victims of sexual assault, said tips to try and avoid assaults can help. She said she believes there are larger problems that lie within what she called the “rape culture.”
That rape culture, Lester said, is part of our society’s misunderstandings toward sexual assault and how pervasive and accepted it is.
“People think people can consent when you are a student of your professor who is coercing you, or you can consent when you are blacked-out drunk,” she said.
Lester said that too often, incidences of sexual assault are seen as women just playing hard to get, or “boys being boys,” or that assaults can’t occur in married couples, even citing pop culture as examples of societal acceptance.
“I just read an article about the ‘Breaking Bad’ finale and everyone was obsessed with that, but no one was talking about how the main character has a scene in that show where he rapes his wife,” Lester said. “And yet that wasn’t talked about at all. It was sort of like, ‘Oh well. She’s his wife, so it’s OK.’”
She said Sun Devils Against Sexual Assault looks to be a resource for victims outside of ASU, because many don’t realize there are alternative resources available.
Lester said society needs to place more emphasis on consent and blame the perpetrators of sexual assaults, not the victims.
“It’s really a big cultural problem. It’s not just ASU,” she said. “I think there needs to be a lot of cultural shifts about respecting consent.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @markjremillard