To stay safe, students being warned: Be aware
Published: Saturday, August 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 7:50 p.m.
The first week of classes at the University of Florida has ended, but as the weekend celebrations begin, students — particularly female freshmen — are being urged to take steps to thwart sexual predators.
Two women reported last week that they had been sexually battered by two men they met at a bar across from the University of Florida. The women said they might have been drugged, police reported.
A similar case in 2011 involved a woman who said she met a man at the same bar and was raped after she accepted a ride from him. Several other sexual assaults involving college students have occurred in the past few years.
In some cases, the women were in their homes. In others, the women were outside at their apartment complex, getting out of a car downtown or doing similar everyday routines.
University health experts and police say it can happen regardless of the circumstances. But college-age women can lessen the chances by following some safe practices.
"We and the police are doing a lot more education and reminding people about their personal safety and being aware. It is something we all take very seriously, especially with the influx of new students now," said Maureen Miller, director of UF's GatorWell Health Promotions Services. "Be aware of your surroundings. Know who you are going out with — and that doesn't mean the person you met next door a week ago."
Sexual battery charges were filed Aug. 16 against the two men who allegedly raped the two women they met at a Gainesville bar, bought drinks for and invited to a nearby apartment, the Gainesville Police Department reported.
Arrested were Carlos Gabriel Telleria, 21, of 101 NW 10th St., and Gustavo Adolfo Herdocia, 26, of 1630 NW Second Ave.
Telleria has been admitted as a fall student at UF, transferring from Santa Fe College, while Herdocia is a Santa Fe student.
The incident happened about 3 a.m. on Aug. 9 and began earlier at 101 Cantina, a bar in the 1600 block of West University Avenue.
Police reported that two women met the men at the bar and that one of the men was able to get the women wristbands so they could drink alcohol, the arrest reports state. Police later said the women were not old enough to legally drink alcohol.
The women had one drink each and, shortly before closing, had consumed only about half of those drinks but felt completely intoxicated, police said.
The men persuaded the women to walk about a block to an apartment, the reports state. The women reported they were unconscious for a time and then woke while being raped, police allege.
About one in five college women nationally will be sexually battered, and most do not report it, said Sherry Benton, director of Counseling and Wellness at UF.
Benton said that nationally among colleges, the start of an academic year typically has the highest number of sexual assaults, in part because of the influx of naive freshmen.
"The vast majority of sexual assaults do not happen with strangers," Benton said. "When it is sexual assault, when it wasn't with consent, when the women said no and it still happens, there is a lot of confusion and guilt and all kinds of complicated feelings for the women. Not trusting, wondering if it was their fault."
Alcohol is often a factor — it can cloud judgment or cause blackouts.
The city has taken various steps aimed at curbing underage drinking and excessive drinking, but it still goes on.
In 2009, the city passed an ordinance that punishes establishments with an excessive number of underage drinking violations by prohibiting them from allowing anyone under the age of 21 into the business for 90 days.
The prohibition is triggered if a bar with an occupancy of less than 201 has five violations or more in any three-month period. Larger bars can have 10 violations.
Among the bars that have been cited in the campus area are 101 Cantina, the Swamp and Gator City
Data from GPD show that 101 Cantina had 15 underage violations in 2009, 71 in 2010, two in 2011, 17 in 2012 and 12 so far this year.
Gator City in 2010 had 15 violations, one in 2011, three in 2012 and six so far this year. GPD data shows The Swamp had two violations, both in 2012.
Alex Thomas, owner of Gator City and 101 Cantina, said he has been working diligently to reduce the number of violations.
The business conducts training for employees to try to spot underage drinkers and those with fake identities, Thomas said. He added that GPD was given video from inside 101 Cantina on the night of the sexual batteries.
"We are proactive with GPD and the public safety board. We go to all the meetings and suggest to GPD that they work with the businesses to train security staff properly," Thomas said. "It is hard to police thousands upon thousands of people a week, especially kids who have no real regard for a security guard."
Both Thomas and GPD Lt. Brian Helmerson, who heads a downtown unit that deals with the bar scene, said students can pay upwards of $300 for a fake identification made in China complete with a photo that looks like the real thing and can be swiped in scanners.
An exercise GPD did Wednesday night outside a campus-area bar showed that many students don't realize how impaired they are after drinking.
Police gave 49 breath tests to volunteers, including 10 who were underage. The highest blood-alcohol level was .231 by a woman. The lowest was .045 by a man. Thirty-seven had a level of more than .08, the legal standard for impairment in Florida.
Helmerson said an educational campaign soon will be done with bars on how to check identification and other security issues.
Meanwhile, Miller said GatorWell soon will roll out a new advertising campaign aimed at student safety and curbing excessive drinking.
The ads will feature the tagline "When I drink too much ..." with various scenarios such as "I end up in a random apartment and don't know how I got there."
Miller said simple precautionary measures such as walking with your head up and being aware of what is happening around you can help fend off trouble.
"I don't want to engage in any victim-blaming, but I think it is always better to err on the side of caution," Miller said.
Safety tips for a range of crimes can be found at http://www.police.ufl.edu/community-services/safety-tips/.