Student fights off man with knife in sex assault


A female student at the University of Hawaii at Hilo allegedly fought off an attempted sex assault at knifepoint in a campus bathroom on Tuesday.

Police say the attack occurred about 4:30 p.m. but a police log indicates the incident, which is being investigated as an attempted third-degree sex assault, was reported to them at 7:14 p.m.

Jerry Chang, UH-Hilo director of University Relations, said the student is a sophomore from Oahu and she has returned to be with family.

Comments on the Internet allegedly made by two relatives of the victim state the attacker held a pocket knife to the victim’s throat as he struggled to remove her top and the victim punched the assailant several times in the face, causing him to stop the attack and drop the knife. The man allegedly picked up the knife before he fled. The online comments state the attack occurred in the women’s bathroom at the school’s geology building.

“There’s several different reports,” Chang said Thursday. “One says the geology building, another says the dorms. The police are investigating it, and appropriate university officials are aware. We don’t want to put out an alert to the students because it’s not verified.”

Police say the suspect made his getaway in a 2003-2006 red Ford Expedition with tan or gold on the bottom. He’s described as a man in his early 20s, 6 feet tall, 160-180 pounds with a thin build, curly blond hair and facial acne, wearing a white tank top and black surf shorts.

Capt. Robert Wagner of the Hilo Criminal Investigation Division said the suspect and vehicle descriptions don’t match those of any other ongoing sex assault investigations and the victim didn’t know the alleged assailant.

“Sex assaults, I’d say 90 percent of the time, are done by people that the victim knows. It’s a crime where you would normally know who is committing. To have one done by somebody they don’t know in our town is unusual,” he said. Wagner added the usual sex assault investigations involve alleged date rape or reports of attacks by family friends or even family members.

Asked about the frequency of reported sex assaults and violence against women on campus, Wagner replied: “It’s a university campus. It has dormitories. It has about 4,000 people and they built a whole new housing section, too. Every year, you’ll have calls about sex assaults at any school, high school even, and at the college, as well. Definitely, we’ll get calls.”

Chang said university administrators are “very concerned” about sex assault reports on campus and that a decision has been made to increase security patrols on campus.

“We’ve just had a meeting,” he said. “We’re putting out an email to campuswide students that there are rumors about this situation and to be vigilant and cautious. … We’re very vigilant in following up on alleged attacks on campus and we want to remind students about risk reduction and the resources that’s available for them.”

Chang provided Stephens Media Hawaii with the texts of two email alerts disseminated by Luoluo Hong, the school’s vice chancellor for student affairs.

The first, dated Sunday, states, in part: “UH-Hilo does not condone or tolerate acts of sexual violence perpetrated by or against members of its student, staff and faculty community. We are actively striving to reduce and eradicate the incidence of sexual violence, as well as provide appropriate support to victims and survivors when an act of sexual violence does occur.”

The other, dated Thursday, alludes to Tuesday’s alleged incident and states in part: “UH-Hilo treats every report of sexual assault/rape with urgency, gravity and a high degree of concern and care. Always, a primary focus is to provide appropriate support and assistance to the victim/survivor. Further, each report is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine the wishes of the victim for further action, and to assess if there is broader threat to others. While we take seriously each report we receive, UH-Hilo must also be diligent in investigating each incident to confirm details, etc., before deciding further actions or reaching conclusions.”

Chang said that university administrators have scheduled a forum on Monday “for students only” and that the public and media aren’t invited.

“The reason we don’t want the press there is we want the students to be able to convey their feelings without any chance of being publicized,” he said.

He said campus administrators don’t have statistics on reported sex assaults on campus.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to call the police nonemergency line at 935-3311 or to contact Detective Jesse Kerr at 961-8883 or jkerr@co.hawaii.hi.us. Those who prefer to remain anonymous may call Crime Stoppers at 961-8300 and may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000.

“I think the description of the suspect … in connection with the description with the vehicle, you put the two together, now you’ve got something,” Wagner said. “… That’s something that we’re hoping somebody will pick up on and report to us.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.