Boston Globe

Saturday, December 9, 1999

UMass student recants story

4th attack 'victim' admits she lied

By Jordana Hart, Globe Staff, Globe Correspondent
Boston Globe

AMHERST - A student has admitted she fabricated one of the four attacks against women that sent waves of fear through the University of Massachusetts campus here last month. She says she cut her face with a knife to make her story more convincing, a university spokeswoman said.

The Nov. 16 report was the last of the four made to police over a two -week period. It rattled a campus already reeling from three assaults, prompting the university to spend some $100,000 on added security, including the purchase of 10,000 shriek alarms for students, more security officers, and expanded shuttle van service.

The student government, meanwhile, spent $2,200 to hire two instructors for a three-day self-defense seminar, and persuaded faculty to allow students to come to class late or skip class altogether if they feared for their safety. Hundreds of students gathered twice in emotional rallies.

Buzz about the falsified attack had yet to spread widely on campus yesterday, though Chancellor David K. Scott sent an e-mail about it to students and faculty in the morning.

''This is an extremely unfortunate event, and I, along with many, many others, feel saddened by it,'' Scott said in the e-mail.

The few students who had heard about the fabrication expressed shock and surprise that a woman would not only file a false report, but also cut herself. Most also insisted that the incident should not cast doubt over the other attacks.

''I still believe the other three occurred and are as serious as ever,'' said Mary Grein, a 19-year-old sophomore from Westchester County in New York who writes for the campus newspaper. ''I can only think that she [faked the attack] to make a statement. But I believe the other three occurred and are as serious as ever.''

The university refused to identify the woman, except to say she was in her 30s and from Massachusetts.

The fabricated attack, which the woman said happened during an anti-violence rally of 500 students, followed reported rapes on Nov. 2 and 9, and a reported attack on Nov. 14. All of the attacks occurred near a pond at the center of the campus.

On Nov. 16, the woman, her face bloodied, ran to police officers overseeing the anti-violence rally around 1:15 p.m and told them a man had just grabbed her and sliced her face in a nearby parking lot. She described her assailant as white, between 5 feet 9 inches and 6 feet tall, and wearing a red baseball cap.

Police cruisers rushed around the campus looking for the suspect, and officers discovered a paring knife near the scene, which they identified as the weapon.

According to the university, the woman hired a lawyer and by Friday had signed a statement saying she had made up the attack. Officials declined to identify her lawyer, and said that neither the woman nor her lawyer were prepared yesterday to make a public statement.

Filing a false police report is a criminal act, but the Hampshire District Attorney's office said yesterday it has decided not to pursue a complaint against the woman.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office, David Angier, said such prosecutions go forward for two reasons: when someone files a false police report that harms an individual or if the report is meant to fraudulently start or disrupt an investigation.

''Neither of those was evident in this case,'' Angier said yesterday. ''A prosecution in this case would be counterproductive. Women don't report rape for a variety of reasons, one of which is they feel they won't be believed. A prosecution in this case may create the impression that women are not believed.''

UMass Police Chief John Luippold Jr. said his office is continuing to investigate the other three attacks. There are no suspects, and there have been no arrests.

UMass spokeswoman Barbara Pitoniak declined to say what, if any, action the university would take against the woman.

Grein, the sophomore, and others worried that the fake attack would diminish the credibility of women who report assaults.

''It kind of takes the issue and makes people take women less seriously now,'' she added. ''More people will say. `She faked it.'''

Carol Wallace, director of Everywoman's Center on campus, also was concerned about how the fake attack might affect perceptions of women reporting sexual and other assaults.

''One of the myths, about sexual assault in particular, is that women do make false reports,'' said Wallace. ''It is rare and this incident in no way minimizes the validity of the other reports.''

Junior Seth Koenig of Durham, Maine, was surprised to hear the news and said it will inevitably raise some doubts about the other assaults.

''People will feel angry and betrayed,'' he said. ''A lot of students will look at this in a new light, an angry one. The fourth assault did raise awareness of weapons, but now that we find out it was self-inflicted, everything else has to be reinspected.''

Globe correspondent Karen Brown contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B01 of the Boston Globe on 12/09/99.

© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.