Two accusations of sexual assault, one on campus and one off, involving WCU students came to light in the past few weeks, prompting concern in the community because they had not heard of the crimes.
The first, which occurred on Nov. 3 according to police reports, involved WCU student James William Derrickson, 18 of Raleigh. Derrickson is accused of forcing a female student into his room in Scott Hall, locking the door, and forcing the student to perform oral sex on him.
The incident was reported to WCU police on Nov. 8 and Derrickson was arrested on Nov. 18 and charged with two misdemeanors, second degree sexual battery and false imprisonment. He was later released after posting a $3000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 20.
When asked about the incident, WCU police chief Earnest Hudson said that his department “takes sexual assult very seriously.”
“Students need to know that when an accusation like this is made, it’s not simply something where you come into our office, make the report, and leave,” he said, stressing that WCU Police works extensively with other departments on campus to assure that both the victim and the accused have access to counseling and other services that would be helpful.
Hudson also noted that sexual assaults usually peak in the fall semester, and are often influenced by outside events, noting that “lots of sexual assaults on campus are someone you know, and often alcohol is involved.”
He cautions students to be mindful of their surroundings and take preemptive action to protect themselves, saying that simple actions like not walking alone and not allowing yourself to become inebriated, are some of the best defenses against unwanted sexual encounters.
Hudson did not say if alcohol was a factor in the Derrickson assault or not.
The second sexual assault occurred on Nov. 20 at Catamount Peak Apartments and involved 21-year-old Leland August Shockley of Cullowhee, according to police reports. Shockley was arrested two days later by the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department and faces second degree rape and second degree sexual assault charges. The victim was also a WCU student.
Shockley was released after posting a $60,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court on Dec. 20.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s department could not be reached for further comment.
Walter Turner, Director of Student Community Ethics, said that cases like Derrickson’s and Shockley’s are handled both internally by WCU guidelines, as well as externally by law enforcement agencies. He stressed that regardless of the offense, the Department of Student Community Ethics handles each case presented to them under WCU rules and the Code of Student Conduct.
He says that the Department of Student Community Ethics “cares about all student’s rights and safety”, adding that if the situation necessitates it, “we’ll make sure that in a serious situation, contact and conflict is avoided”.
Turner added that the Code of Student Conduct applies to any events on campus, and depending on individual circumstances, may be applied to WCU students involved in off campus incidents as well.
Each case that is submitted to the Department of Student Community Ethics goes through a resolution process that may involve administrative hearings, a student hearing board or a mutual resolution. If a mutual resolution is not achieved, opportunity for an appeal to the Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs exists.
Turner stressed that the WCU disciplinary process is conducted independently of any legal proceedings in a criminal case.
Several WCU students interviewed said that they hope for better communication from the university when situations such as sexual assault occur on or near campus, though none were worried about sexual assault more than they have been in the past.
Kasey Privette, a WCU sophomore, said that “just because these instances have been reported doesn’t make me feel any better or worse. I’m sure there are plenty that go unreported.”
Junior Sarah Gordon said that though the recent incidents have not made her any more anxious than before, they have served as a reminder to be better aware.
“I’ve always been concerned about the possibility, and though Western is a smaller community, it is a college campus,” she said. “The possibility of something like this happening is unfortunately always present.”
Chief Hudson feels that WCU is doing a good job on the educational front of sexual assault, citing programs like the Red Zone, and ongoing community education programs to help students protect themselves.
Though he acknowledged the desire of students to be better informed, he noted the difference between emergency notification systems and the way that the campus community is informed of a situation like sexual assault.
“Emergency notifications are issued when there is a direct threat to campus—they aren’t used to break news stories,” said Hudson.
He suggested that students who are concerned should check the daily activity reports maintained by the police department, or rely on other news sources. He says that both the police department and the university broadcast events like sexual assault when they happen, “but often students do not listen”.