Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Two College Students Charged in Sex Assault

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Two College Students Charged in Sex Assault

Article excerpt

Two Ramapo College students are charged with sexually assaulting a woman in a dorm room, on a campus already grappling with controversy over a school counselor's remarks that critics interpret as blaming women for being assaulted.

The arrests, announced Tuesday, also come amid a growing nationwide debate about the treatment of women on college campuses in light of recent statements by a Yale Law School professor and a Pennsylvania college president.

Nakeem D. Gardner, 18, of Paterson and Christian A. Lopez, 24, of Secaucus were charged Monday with sexual assault after another Ramapo student told police she had attended a fraternity party late Friday and woke up early Saturday undressed in the dorm room, believing she had been assaulted, said Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli.

The woman immediately went to Hackensack University Medical Center, which reported the incident to the Prosecutor's Office Special Victims Unit and the Mahwah police, Molinelli said. Police examined video surveillance and interviewed numerous students before making the arrests, he said. Authorities did not disclose the identity of the fraternity or the location of the party.

Gardner was arrested on campus Monday, and Lopez was arrested at his home, Molinelli said. Both are charged with two counts of first- degree aggravated sexual assault. Gardner also is accused of taking video and pictures of the woman and is charged with third-degree invasion of privacy. The accused were being held Monday in the county jail on $300,000 bail each, Molinelli said.

Ramapo College President Peter P. Mercer appeared to address the running controversy on his Mahwah campus Tuesday when he announced the arrests on the school's Facebook page: "Violence is always the responsibility of the perpetrator," he wrote.

Some students appeared stunned when they heard about the arrests Tuesday, while others said the bigger surprise is that more incidents are not reported, and they praised the woman for going to police.

"I'm happy she did, so that maybe more people will be inclined to say something," said Hayley Rappa, 22, a senior. She added that she knows women who have been subjected to inappropriate sexual behavior on campus and elsewhere but have not reported it. "It's not just Ramapo," she said. "It's everywhere."

Mercer declined to comment on the alleged sexual assault or to discuss the issue of women being reluctant to report sex crimes, a national problem highlighted by recent statements made at Ramapo and elsewhere. He said in his Facebook post that the school is reviewing its sex-assault prevention program.

"The safety and wellbeing of our students remains our paramount concern," he wrote. "Therefore, while we believe our sexual assault prevention programming and procedures are strong, the shocking nature of these allegations compels us to re-examine them. …

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