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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 10, 2006

UH alert warns of online predators

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer

University of Hawai'i-Manoa officials are considering ways to educate students about online predators following a recent report that a student said she was sexually assaulted in her dorm room by a man she met on the Internet.

Neal Sakamoto, chief of security at UH-Manoa, said the university is discussing a plan, which could include issuing an advisory warning students about the dangers of inviting people they meet online to their dorm rooms.

"We're in the very early stages of discussing ways to handle situations like this," Sakamoto said.

UH-Manoa campus security issued an alert Friday about a female student who had met a person online and reported being sexually assaulted by him in her dorm room.

The student apparently had been communicating with the man online and "after a period of time" had agreed to meet him off-campus, according to the alert. She said she later invited him to her on-campus dorm room and he raped her.

The alleged assault occurred three weeks ago but was not reported to campus security until last week, UH officials said. The case has been handed over to the Honolulu Police Department.

No arrests have been made, said UH officials.

"We take these issues very seriously, as you know, and we're doing what we can to continue to work on security for our students," said Kathy Cutshaw, vice chancellor for administration.

The university is hiring eight new security guards, which would boost the security force to about 40. The university has also been working to improve lighting across campus to enhance visibility and make pathways safer at night.

The university also recently hired Sakamoto, who has 18 years of experience with the state sheriff's office, as its chief of security, Cutshaw said.

Included in last week's security alert was a warning for students to be cautious when corresponding with people they meet online.

"There are many dishonest individuals who use the Internet for the wrong reasons. Please use extreme caution if you decide to have a face-to-face meeting," the alert said.

Jayne Bopp, UH project coordinator for the federally funded Program Against Violence to Women, said social networking Web sites such as Myspace.com have put a new wrinkle in the effort to combat sexual assaults.

"With Myspace, there has been some issues with people putting very personal information about themselves online. There are a lot of risks associated with that," she said.

Bopp said when students decide to meet people they chatted with online, they are going beyond the university's capability to combat sexual assaults.

"When it becomes a personal judgment call, like meeting someone online, that's where education comes in," Bopp said.

Bopp's program does provide mandatory awareness training about sexual assaults to new students, athletes and on-campus residents, but she said there should be more training about the dangers of sexual predators online.

"Some of these guys are very sophisticated criminals," she said.

Incidents of on-campus sexual assaults have apparently declined over the past two years, according to recent data released by the university. Last year, two assaults were reported, but when the number of assaults that occurred off-campus are factored in, that total rises to six. Three on-campus assaults were reported in 2004 and seven in 2003.

Bopp took issue with the statistics, stating that from her experience, more students are reporting sexual assaults.

"The more you talk about sex assaults on-campus, the more likely victims will be to come forward," she said.

Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com.