Community Handles Aftermath of Abduction Scare
Sarah McQueen

abduction-1-color-sfeld.jpgIn the wake of the recent abduction scare on campus, the University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point and local authorities are working hard to make sure everyone has an accurate understanding of the situation.

The most recent event in three similar situations took place on March 3, near the corner of Maria Drive and Illinois Avenue. An adolescent girl was jogging when a man beckoned her to his car and asked her for directions. While speaking with her, he grasped her arm. She became uncomfortable, pulled away and ran off. He got in his vehicle and drove off in the other direction.

The other two circumstances were very similar, according to Sergeant Tony Bable of the Stevens Point Police Department. One notable difference in the Prentice Street incident is that the girl stated the man followed her to the YMCA.

“Things get embellished a little bit,” Bable said. “I’ve never even called it an attempt at abduction. I’ve called it suspicious. At this point, we don’t know if the person is hard of hearing and just trying to pull the person closer, or if they were intoxicated and trying to get a rise out of the person. Nobody knows for sure what their intentions were, and we may never know until we find the person.“

The Stevens Point Police Department is investigating leads from the community, checking sex offender registries to see if anyone in the area matches the description and checking with other agencies to try and locate the individual.

“We are checking everyone out,” Bable said. “We want to make sure this doesn’t get to the point of abduction.”

The Women’s Resource Center, a Student Government Association-funded, student-run organization, is taking an active role in raising awareness. Kate Carson, a student at UWSP and the executive coordinator of the center, said she was disturbed and disappointed by the university’s slow response to the incidents.

“I realized nothing had been said about these past three events, and I didn’t have faith that the university was going to act, and it didn’t,” Carson said. “I feel like this campus isn’t taking our safety seriously.”

Carson waited several days after the incident occurred for the university to release information about the situation. Carson sent out emails with information gathered from the media and Protective Services’ website about the events to as many people as she could. She also made posters containing the same information and hung them up across campus.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Al Thompson, who would normally be in charge of handling the university’s response to this type of situation, was out of the state when the incident occurred. He returned early from his trip to help with the aftermath and ensure campus would be properly informed of the things that had happened. Thompson saw to it that an email with all available information was sent to the student body.

“If I had been here on campus, something would have gone out that day,” Thompson said. “We were surprised just like everyone else when we saw the newspaper article about the third abduction attempt. We were not—even Protective Services— aware of the first two. We do work closely with the city, but we to need to make sure that we are getting updates on these abduction attempts and anything that affects safety around the campus.”

Thompson is working closely with the Women’s Resource Center. He hopes to bring together various other groups on campus to talk about the environment for women on campus and to discuss ideas for handling safety risks when they arise.

“We have to empower women to feel like they can fight back if they needed to—to walk with their heads up, shoulders back and looking like they have a purpose,” Carson said. “When perpetrators have been interviewed and asked what they look for in a victim, it’s the person who has the body language that says they are not confident.”

The Women’s Resource Center was already planning to hold a self-defense class in April, but after these incidents it plans to move the date up and possibly add another course.

“I think campus needs to be very careful to not downplay it, but don’t go hyper-fear either,” Thompson said. “It needs to be more of a happy medium where you’re understanding your environment.”

There have been many tips of possible sightings of the man from the incident, and the police and Protective Services take each one seriously. There has, however, been no verifiable sighting of him since March 3.

“We are not looking the other way,” Thompson said. “Everything that comes to our attention, we look into.”

Since the time of the incident, Protective Services has increased its patrols and the number of staff they have working at one time.

There are many safety features available on campus: the Blue Phones, which are treated similarly to 911 calls and will always elicit an on-scene response; the red emergency phones in all the buildings, which when picked up will connect directly to Protective Services; and 24-hour security.