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One of the four University of Massachusetts at Amherst (UMass) women who claimed to have been the victim of an assault last month has now admitted that she made up the report, school officials said yesterday.
On Dec. 3 the student's lawyer submitted to police a signed statement that the cuts on her face were self-inflicted, said Jim Lyons, associate to the chief of university police.
Her claim was one of four rapes or assaults reported by female students at the university last month, a series of incidents that incited campus outrage and fear.
This student had told university police that a white male grabbed her in broad daylight on Nov. 16 and sliced her with a knife. Police found a bloody knife at the scene.
Lyons said no charges would be pressed.
"The district attorney's office has decided there's no law enforcement objective in prosecuting the woman," he said.
He added that police do not know why she falsified the report or wounded herself.
At the lawyer's request, the university declined to give the name of the woman or her lawyer. She is in her 30s and from Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe.
The university had been in a state of terror and tension since early November, when two rapes and an assault took place on campus, said senior Jared Brooslin, a spokesperson for the UMass-Amherst student government. Chalk slogans saying "Castrate Rapists" and "Walk in Pairs" appeared on sidewalks, and students looked over their shoulders when alone.
"The atmosphere was tense," he said. "Everyone would walk in groups, women wouldn't stand next to men alone at bus stops. Everyone was arming themselves, carrying pepper spray and whistles."
Students learned about the retraction today through e-mail messages from administrators and campus news sources. Chancellor David Scott issued a press release Wednesday with the details of the retraction.
Students were not entirely surprised by the retraction. Rumors have circulated for weeks that one or two of the attacks were bogus, according to junior Marni Hanlon. And Brooslin noted that the scene of the falsified crime--a public area in the center of the campus--is not a likely spot for a violent assault.
"Some people were questioning the incident because of the area where it happened was very high traffic," Brooslin said. "They couldn't imagine that it happened with no witnesses."
"At the same time, you don't want to question assault reports," Brooslin said.
Part of the student outcry after the assaults was directed against the university, which they said had not properly responded to their safety concerns.
Yesterday the Student Government Association voted in favor of declaring no-confidence in Jo-Anne Vanin, the dean of student affairs, who students said has been negligent in dealing with safety issues.
Vanin had failed to show up at forums on violence and take part in dialogue with students, according to Brooslin.
"We've had trouble getting in touch with her," Brooslin said. "She's the chief advocate of the administration for the students, and she's been ignoring her role."
Chancellor David Scott defended Vanin in a university-wide memo circulated yesterday, noting that Vanin's staff attended the meetings. At the time, Vanin "continued to work to provide support to those dealing with the sudden death of a fellow student" in an unrelated case.
Vanin's office refused to comment on the no-confidence vote.
However, the university has undertaken a major effort to beef up campus security. Overtime pay for police, shriek alarms and special seminars on safety have cost over $100,000, said Barbara Pitoniak, a university spokesperson.
"A lot of people changed the way they behaved," Lyons said. "They began being more careful and reporting more suspicious activity."
"Everyone was pretty much freaking out and totally spooked," said one senior, who asked not to be named. "When the hype was at its peak, you wouldn't see a female anywhere at night."
Students said that not enough time had passed since the retraction to tell whether things would get back to normal. But at least one senior said he felt a noticeable drop in tension on campus.
"Campus is not quite the same, but it's gotten much less serious about this. It's all blowing over," he said.
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