Police investigating two reports of sexual assault connected to off-campus party

The St. Joseph County Police Department is investigating two instances of sexual assault reported last weekend, according to an email from the Saint Mary’s campus safety department.

Phil Bambenek, the College’s director of the campus safety department, said in the email the assaults appear to be connected to at least one student party that occurred Friday night and Saturday morning at University Edge Apartments.

The email said one of the instances of sexual assault occurred when a student was coerced into a sexual act but then did not explicitly consent to any further activity.

The details of the second reported assault are unclear but it appears to be connected to the same University Edge student party, the email said.

Bambenek went on to give more information on what constitutes sexual assault and the definition of consent.

“Anyone initiating any kind of sexual contact with another person must seek consent and not engage in sexual contact unless consent is given,” he wrote. “‘Consent’ means informed, freely given agreement, communicated by clearly understandable words or actions, to participate in each form of sexual activity. Consent cannot be inferred from silence, passivity, or lack of active resistance.’”

A person who is incapacitated is unable to give consent, Bambenek added. The email requested any witnesses to contact the police department at (574) 235-9611 to assist in the investigation.


NDPD announces use of bodycams, new ND Safe app

The Notre Dame Police Department (NDPD) announced this month that its sworn officers are now wearing body cameras. The department also released the ND Safe app with multiple resources, including one-touch calls to Notre Dame police, St. Joseph County’s 911 center and non-emergency assistance, as well as resources to share location with NDPD or one’s friends.

NDPD chief Keri Kei Shibata says that the decision to start using body cameras has been a long time coming. “We had been thinking about it for a number of years. In fact, we had officers who had been wanting to wear body cameras previous to [the decision],” Shibata said.

Shibata said that the department had held off due to existing safety technology that NDPD already employed.

“We have a number of CCTV cameras on campus, so usually when there’s something that happens, and there’s a question about whether something happened a certain way or not, we can investigate that way. But there’s no audio there. The officers have had in-car cameras with body mics for a very long time,” she said.

They ultimately decided to purchase the technology — developed by Axon Enterprise, a firm that develops technology for law enforcement, the military and general public — for a number of reasons.

“They’re becoming more standard for police agencies. We know that the federal agencies are soon going to be required to wear them. And so it’s just becoming a best practice in law enforcement,” Shibata said.

Shibata also referred to national conversations around police reform. NDPD has engaged in that conversation following the death of George Floyd, releasing an extensive “Equity in Policing” report that outlines a commitment to solidarity and details training and policies for officers. 

“We know that at times law enforcement in the United States has played a role in dehumanization, oppression and the infringement of the basic civil and human rights of people in our country. Instances of police brutality are tragic reminders of the systemic racism that exists in the United States,” the statement reads. “We recognize that NDPD is part of the larger criminal justice system that needs to improve in many ways.”

“These truths are uncomfortable, they stain our history and tarnish the reputation of good people doing good work. But, they are truths that are nonetheless acknowledged by the Notre Dame Police Department.”

Shibata said the bodycams “allow us to be more transparent and accountable. It helps us to quickly investigate any complaints. It helps collect evidence in cases if that’s needed. It can also help with training, so officers can review their interactions and supervisors can review with officers and say, ‘How could we have handled this a little bit differently?’ And then if there are disputes about what happened, it can clarify that.”

She said that current policy dictates officers must turn on their body cams any time they are on a call for service or law enforcement interaction, from someone locking their keys in an office to a more serious threat.

“The spirit of the policy that will always be the case is any kind of law enforcement and action will be recorded,” she said. 

Officers must tell citizens who ask if they’re being recorded that they are, and they can turn off the cameras if they are requested or for privacy reasons, such as offering care to a person potentially in a state of undress. They would document the cause in any case this occurred. In case the situation escalates, they would turn the camera back on.

NDPD exists because of a state law allowing colleges to appoint a police force. Notre Dame’s board decided to do so, giving NDPD jurisdiction throughout St. Joseph County, but primarily on campus, Shibata said.

“In an active violence or other serious public safety emergency NDPD officers know the campus inside and out and can get there quickly and take the right action or give the right instruction to the community and other responding agencies,” she wrote in an email. “In addition, in everyday situations we know the campus resources available to students, faculty, and staff so we often have the ability to connect them with those resources rather than taking law enforcement action if appropriate where other police agencies wouldn’t know the resources in that detail or the people to connect them with.”

With the release of the ND Safe application, the work to ensure safety on campus continues. 

“We’re very excited about [the app],” Shibata said. “We had been thinking about a safety app for quite a while. Student government had asked if that was something that we could do, and it was another thing that just fell together and it seemed like the right time to do it.”

Within the app, users can activate features like the Virtual Walkhome feature, which allows a police dispatcher to monitor their walk to or from a residence hall or other location on or off campus. 

ND Safe has other features including FriendWalk, essentially a safety escort service without a person, designed to share a user’s location with friends or family. There’s also Mobile Blue Light, which shares the user’s location with NDPD. The app also has a feature called Social Escape, a self-scheduled call to the user’s mobile phone as a means to leave an uncomfortable or potentially threatening situation.

“It’s a great resource. I like it that people can choose either to have our staff involved or not, depending on what they feel they need. And then most of the options also enable people to really quickly contact 911 or our police department depending on where they are,” Shibata said.


Observer Editorial: Let’s create a safer campus

Being back on campus means getting back into the swing of things. Whether that means getting used to school work routines, friend groups or even drinking and going out, it’s not always easy. In addition to a list of resources from our rolodex last week, we want to not forget general reminders that can go a long way in keeping you and your friends safe.

Have each others’ backs

Going out to a bar, a party or even dinner can be fun. Unfortunately, what can start as a great night can take a turn for the worse if we aren’t there for each other. When you go out, make sure you go with friends you trust. Watch out for over-consumption, and respect each other when someone says they’ve had enough to drink, or simply don’t want to. And, help enforce that answer if someone else won’t respect it. 

If a friend finds themselves in a dangerous situation, call the authorities for help — even if people in the group have been drinking underage. Indiana’s Lifeline Law provides immunity for anyone seeking help from law enforcement for a friend who needs medical attention due to alcohol. Don’t let the fear of getting in trouble keep you from protecting — or saving — your friends. 

If you see someone outside of your friend group who might need help, reach out to them. Make sure they are okay and invite them to come home with your group if they seem alone or in an uncomfortable situation. You may not be comfortable with this yet, and that’s okay. One great way to become more comfortable with helping others is to complete GreeNDot training. Bystander intervention is an important resource — the more people who know how to use it, the safer our community can be.

Watch out for yourself, too

No one knows your limits better than you do. If you haven’t drank before, pace yourself. If you have, still pace yourself and listen to your body. It’s not the same every time, and other factors can have an effect on how your night goes. Be careful not to put your drink down, leave it with anyone else or place it out of your sight for too long. If you think you see someone else’s drink tampered with, tell them. 

Don’t walk alone at night 

When you’re in unfamiliar places, travel in packs. Walking home with friends can be convenient, but it’s also important to make sure you’re careful. Even if you Uber to different dorms a few feet from each other, make sure you have a system to let friends know you’re home. Send a quick text saying “Made it!” or even something as simple as “Home.” If you have to be alone, call someone. You don’t have to talk. They can just continue whatever they are doing while you stay alert for what’s going on around you. If that doesn’t work for you, set up some kind of system that will. Another option to help you make it home safely is the new ND Safe App. There you can find several resources including safety options like a virtual walkhome. 

For students heading to Saint Mary’s, Blinkie is always a safe and reliable option. Blinkie runs Sunday through Thursday 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Friday and Saturday 9 p.m. to 4 a. m. Times will be adjusted as it becomes darker out earlier. For Saint Mary’s students heading back to campus after Blinkie’s hours SMCurity (Saint Mary’s Campus Safety) can always be called. They are able to pick students up from the Grotto bus stop and drive them back to Saint Mary’s.     

These preventative measures are especially important this time of year. The start of fall semester through Thanksgiving break has been dubbed “the Red Zone” by the MeToo Movement. More than 50% of sexual assault instances on college campuses occur in that window, and it is especially unsafe for women — even those who know their campus well. Walking home with a group and having friends you trust to check-in with are two ways to make your evenings feel a little safer and a bit more manageable. 

You don’t have to drink alcohol

The social pressure to drink, while more monitored in some ways than other college cultures, is still present. Whether at dissos, a house party or a pregame, drinking is often a big part of people’s evening plans. But it doesn’t have to be. If you want to go out, meet new people and hit different events throughout the year, try FlipSide, a Notre Dame club that provides activity alternatives without the social pressures of drinking. You can also go out to dinner, bowl or see a movie. Or even if you’re at one of those dissos or weekend parties with friends, you still don’t have to drink. Bring a water bottle and have fun with your friends anyways. Drinking is not a requirement at these events, and if anyone makes it seem like it is, that’s a good time to leave. 

On the other hand, a night in can be one of your most memorable and fun nights on campus. Order a pizza, decompress, do a face mask, paint your nails — anything that isn’t homework — and just relax for the evening. It’s a great way to spend time with friends, catch up about your week and take a moment to take care of yourself. 

Look out for your mental and physical wellness

Getting a reasonable amount of sleep is a game-changer. Studies show that sleep deprivation has profound effects on human health in many different facets of life. It may seem like a pipe dream to get seven hours of sleep every night, but repeated sleep loss can lead to increased risk of depression, anxiety, hypertension and diabetes. It may even take longer for you to recover from your case of the freshman plague.

Anxiety and depression mixed with sleep deprivation can create a positive feedback loop of worsening mental health. When you are feeling anxious or depressed, you may get less sleep, and less sleep will worsen your symptoms.

When we start to neglect little acts of self-care like getting enough sleep, taking care of friends, drinking water and spending time with loved ones, our overall wellness is impacted. Checking in on each other shouldn’t stop at the edge of your social circles. If you see someone struggling, whether it be on a night out or just because of a bad day, offer a hand. 

Now that we are a third of the way through the semester, classes are in full swing and football season fatigue is kicking in. Keep taking care of yourself and others. Small acts make a difference.


Observer Editorial: Numbers to know: Safety and wellness rolodex

Credit: Maggie Klaers