Winthrop University looking for a man police say sexually assaulted someone in the dorms

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 5:31 PM EST
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ROCK HILL, S.C. (WBTV) -Winthrop University says a man walked into a residence hall and sexually assaulted a woman.

Winthrop’s cameras caught the person walking all over campus, but he is apparently not a student or employee.

So, Winthrop is turning to its own campus community and people living in the area to help solve this crime.

But students say this is just one case that brings out a bigger campus-wide issue—security.

The assault happened Monday morning around 10 a.m. At this time, Winthrop does not believe the individual and her assailant knew each other.

The suspect is described as:

• A white male in his early twenties.

• Muscular in stature.

• Approximately 6 feet tall or slightly over.

• Dark brown hair, trimmed neat and close to head.

• Blue eyes, described as being crystal blue or ice blue in appearance.

• Having light facial hair.

Records show From 2018 to 2020 Winthrop University had reported 16 rapes reported just inside a residence hall. However, for context, these are not broken down into categories including if the person knew their assailant, if the assailant lived inside the same dorm, or was even a student.

A few students remain on campus as Winthrop University prepares for Thanksgiving break. And despite no clouds in the sky today, students say an ominous one is hovering above campus right now.

”It’s terrifying,” said student Abby Gillam.

What is putting them on edge? The email campus security sent to their inbox describing a sexual assault.

”I was very concerned because it was one of those things where I’m like have I seen this guy before? Do I know this person?” says Alison Griffin, who lives in a residence hall.

Griffin lives in a residence hall where common courtesy, like holding the door open for the next person, is just the Winthrop way.

”We also have to remember that it’s important to know whether or not the person who’s walking right behind you is actually meant to be there and I think some people forget that,” she said.

So just how easy is it to get into one of these residence halls?

WBTV reporter Morgan Newell tested it, getting in easily by just following behind someone.

And while schools do warn students not to hold the door for someone they do not know, students say there is a breakdown in security that goes beyond the doors of the residence halls.

”I’m a commuter so safety’s kind of important when you’re walking around by yourself at night and I don’t feel like there’s a lot of security,” said Gillam.

Gillam says she has gotten several tickets parking in the visitors’ lot closer to her classes instead of the off-campus and miles away commuter lots. Gillam mapped out where her class meets and fencing practices are. The map showed this as more than a mile. The university officials say the commuter lots are on campus and not more than a mile away.

”It’s not that I’m afraid something will happen to me. It’s that stuff has happened to other girls, and it could be me next,” she says.

WBTV reached out to Winthrop about the concerns. We did not discuss the video of me walking into the resident hall. The school got back to WBTV with some answers before our piece aired with these responses.

In response to the assault, Winthrop officials say:

“University leadership hosted a town hall on Thursday (11/18) with residents of Phelps Hall. At the town hall, representatives from Winthrop University Police Department, the Title IX Office, Office of Victims Assistance, Dean of Students Office, and Residence Life spent time answering questions and addressing student concerns. Chief Yearta also spoke at a CSL-sponsored event on Monday night (11/22) to answer safety-related questions. The investigation is ongoing, and Winthrop University Police are diligently following up on current leads and working with Crime Stoppers to solicit new leads in this case. Winthrop continues to remind students to remain vigilant when it comes to safety and security.”

”They definitely need to do more on campus,” said Gillam.

Winthrop officials say the Winthrop Police are attempting to do more. In response, the school is bringing in more officers on overtime and increasing patrols around the campus. However, officials say long-term solutions are being looked into as well.

As far as the investigation goes, Winthrop officials say “Winthrop Police is diligently following up on current leads and working with local law enforcement agencies and Crime Stoppers. We encourage all members of the campus community to remain vigilant.”

One of the things students kept saying—campus security is understaffed so even getting a safety escort has been difficult. Winthrop did confirm there are vacancies the university is trying to fill.

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