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Do I have to criticize everyone with the slightest ounce of authority on this campus? Apparently so. Last Sunday, a male student broke into a girls’ dorm room and attempted to rape (or raped? it’s not clear) another student. In this piece, I will talk about how the people from University Communications and the college newspaper CM Life dropped the ball. Oh, they reported the incident alright, but they left some void in regards to the information and made poor word choices.

This is the email every student received Monday morning, which ultimately set off a wildfire of anger.

Central Michigan University Police Department (CMUPD)

Subject: Residence hall students reminded to lock doors

During the early morning hours of Sunday, October 27th, a subject entered an unlocked residence hall room in Merrill Hall. The subject committed sexual assault and other simple assaults.

The subject was immediately apprehended by the CMU Police Department. He was arrested and has been charged with: home invasion, criminal sexual conduct with intent of sexual penetration, criminal sexual conduct 4th degree, and two counts of assault and battery. The victims of this event did not sustain injury as a result.
Students are reminded to keep their residence hall room doors locked–even when occupied. Everyone is also encouraged to report any criminal activity or suspicious behavior to the CMU Police Department by calling 911, or 774-3081.
>>> My response: <<<
The way you report this incident is highly insensitive. “The victim didn’t sustain injury”? Are you fucking kidding me? He or she was RAPED. And then you act as though it’s the person’s fault, because they didn’t lock their door. I can’t believe that’s also the subject in the email. The main issue was REMINDING PEOPLE TO LOCK THEIR DOORS, not highlighting the fact that someone was raped. That was under-minded. It’s so insulting. People probably didn’t even read the email, because when it says something so mundane in the subject line, few will bother. 

 
I hope that in the following days, the school will address this incident further. I’d like the CMU Police send out a report and I want CM Life to report on this. Merrill isn’t far from where I live. It could have been me or any of my friends. I don’t take things like this lightly. I do appreciate that the police responded so quickly, but the aftermath is just as important. I’m tired of victim blaming.
Before the newspaper article came out on Wednesday, many people responded to the email like I did and the Student Government Association immediately took action. The SGA President Marie Reimers is actually my roommate’s older sister so I found out that the organization talked with the police who hadn’t realized how insensitive the wording was. For instance, they said that the penetrator committed “sexual assault and other simple assaults.” My roommate explained that the word ‘simple assault’ is police jargon for ‘the suspect didn’t use any weapons to cause harm,’ but they cannot assume that everyone knows that.
CMUPD was surprisingly nice about it, though, when people critiqued them and they were open for suggestions. It turns out that the police department hasn’t been trained by Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates (SAPA) in five years. That shocks me. What do they know about handling cases like this one? Making sure that the victim is well taken care of afterwards and has her/his case fairly presented in court is just as important as arresting the predator. My roommate told me that from now on her sister will read all the CMUPD press releases before they go out and make sure there’s nothing wrong with them.
CM Life on Wednesday

CM Life on Wednesday

I was hoping for more clarity, because I still had questions about the incident. What exactly happened? Was the student raped or did the penetrator fail in doing so? What the hell does “fourth-degree sexual misconduct” mean? Don’t talk cop with me, speak English. I was disappointed when I read the second paragraph which seemed almost copied-and-pasted from the email, telling me what crimes he had committed (however, cleverly leaving out “simple assault”).

I am not happy with the headline, because it says, “Freshman arraigned on Merrill Hall assault charges,” and not “SEXUAL ASSAULT CHARGES.” For those who didn’t have clue about this incident, assault could have meant anything from punching a guy in the face to knife stabbing. They should have made that clear, and on a journalist’s stand-point, c’mon, you get more readers with a headline like that. “Freshman arraigned on Merril Hall sexual assault charges.” I’d read that article. Plus, that line came up three times; in the headline, it was the lead and it was right under the photograph.

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Another thing that was really obnoxious:

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And then — bare with me if I sound picky — they say the story continues on 2A, which is wrong; it goes on 6A. It’s a small thing, but it’s not a mistake that an award-winning newspaper should do and it happens more often than I like.

Look at what I marked in orange and read that first paragraph:

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I don’t appreciate that the reporter used a quote for an entire paragraph for something he could have easily summarized. Not to mention, this quote is confusing. I was first told in the email that only two people were involved in the incident, now I’m hearing it was probably five people. And who is that witness? Where did he or she come from? Is it  the person at the reception desk? As a reader, I shouldn’t have to go back and re-read parts of an article in order to puzzle everything together.

Then, looking at what I marked in red, they say that the penetrator has withdrawn from his classes. I’d like to know if he has moved. I don’t want to run into this motherfucker. I don’t want him living nearby. Please tell me that the court has ordered him to stay off the campus area.

The article improves a little bit towards the end when he reports on the email and the reactions to it. It’s not as redundant and confusing as the first half. Personally I would have only tweaked a few parts to make it more snappy.

***

I dearly hope that should something like this happen again, the people responsible for the PR and news sources will be more careful with what they say. I know we have to be unbiased, but showing empathy and understanding when you’re reporting and writing has never hurt any journalist’s career.

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