Students protest UMKC’s response to reported rape on campus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- UMKC students held a protest on campus Wednesday to voice their resentment at the university's response to an alleged rape that took place in Johnson Hall on Feb. 23.

The students had several concerns, one being that they weren't notified of the incident from the university until almost a week and a half after it happened.

They also say there were failed security measures that should have prevented the attack.

They also took offense to a statement made to University News, the student newspaper, by a university administrator.

Student protesters outside UMKC's administration building tried to get the attention of Director of Public Relations John Martellaro after he made the following statement to the school paper in response to student concerns about security in the dorms after a reported rape:

"This is not necessarily a security issue because the victim went out willingly with the suspect. It was after socializing that she was taken advantage of, or raped, whatever you might call it."

The university's response to it hurts me personally on just a very deep level and to see them respond to another human being's pain in that kind of way is just unnacceptable," protester Hilary Metzger said.

Hilary Metzger and Catherine Cannon said they are rape survivors. To them, Martellaro's statement is victim-shaming.

"It's not our fault what happened to us. We are victims of something and for him to have said something like that, someone who is of high authority at the college I attend, I do not want someone like that representing me or any facility that I go to," Cannon said.

Victoria Pickering Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) said many people do not know how to appropriately talk about rape.

"Our words and the language that we use when we talk about sexual assault has the capacity to either validate or minimize a survivor's experience," Pickering said.

Pickering said using dismissive language can perpetuate an environment of silence for survivors.

"So we have to be very thoughtful and very compassionate with the words that we use," she added.

It's a feeling protester Danielle Lyons said she knows well. Lyons enrolled at UMKC after being raped while attending another university.

"I've experienced the lack of empathy from an administration and the really difficult process of reporting, and it's just disappointing that in 2017 absolutely nothing has changed," Lyons said.

Martellaro wrote a letter to the editor of University News on Friday apologizing for his comment.

In a recent UNews story about the rape of a UMKC student, I made an unfortunate and inappropriate comment, and I apologize for it.

In the midst of my conversation with the reporter I used the phrase “taken advantage of” to describe what happened to her. I realized immediately that was an inadequate phrase, and I wanted to be sure to use the proper term, “rape.” But in attempting to correct myself in mid-sentence, I only made things worse with the inappropriate wording that followed. Let me be clear: rape is rape, and it is a terrible crime. Again, I apologize.

He also responded on Wednesday evening to FOX 4's request for an explanation of his comment after our 5 p.m. story aired. His statement reads:

I apologize for the damage done after my terrible, clumsy remark. I do not offer any excuses. Rape is rape, period, and it is a terrible crime. But I do want to offer an explanation. As inadequate as it may be, it is what happened.

In the midst of my conversation with the student-newspaper reporter, I used the phrase "taken advantage of" to describe what happened to the victim. I realized immediately that was an inadequate phrase, and I wanted to be sure to use the proper term, “rape.” But in attempting to correct myself mid-sentence, I got tongue-tied, and only made things worse with the inappropriate wording that followed.

I have offered my apology to anyone and everyone who has felt that kind of pain – and will continue to do so.

After the students protested outside the administration building, they went inside and ended up inside the office of Mel Tyler, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs.

Students voiced their discontent with the university's lack of communication about the alleged rape directly to Tyler.

"It's completely insulting to say that rape is anything other than is just wrong," one protester told FOX 4. "It's brushing it under the rug. It's the university pretending they don't have a problem when they clearly do."

While Martellaro did not appear before the protesters, Tyler did allow them to enter his office and voice their concerns.

Tyler agreed to work with students to find solutions to prevent this type of incident from ever happening again.

"I'm happy to hear what they have to say," Tyler said. "Again, the big concern around communications, I get it and I pledge that I will do better and the university will do better."

Many of the student protesters were asking for Martellaro's resignation. Bridget Kroan with UMKC Strategic Marketing and Communications sent the following statement to FOX 4 News:

According to university procedure on personnel matters, we can confirm that John Martellaro is still employed, but can make no further comment on any other personnel actions.

As a university with a history of strong support for sexual assault survivors, we can’t help but be very concerned about a comment that can cause such pain to our campus community. At the same time, we believe that UMKC should be a place of learning from mistakes. It’s a core value for the university. When problems occur, we want to address them directly, seek to understand the context and provide specific remedies for learning and remediation.