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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Student raped in Costa Rica says study abroad programs need to reassess sexual assault protocol

A University of Massachusetts student raped during a study abroad trip to Monteverde said that her case should be a wake-up call for educational institutions sending their students abroad, reported The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Monday.

The woman, who the newspaper did not identify as a matter of policy, said that the Monteverde Institute mishandled her case in that its management was more concerned with legal waivers and assigning blame than her emotional well-being. In a previous blog post, the victim accused the institute’s director, Debra Hamilton, of emotionally violating her during the week after the assault when she reportedly pressured the student to sign a legal waiver and report the crime to the police.

The sexual assault took place when the student left the cloud forest town of Monteverde for the beach during Thanksgiving last year.

The victim told the newspaper that the 27-year-old institute was mistaken when it fired Fran Lindau and Catherine Murray, two employees who the victim said assisted her during the first 48 hours after the assault.

The Monteverde Institute maintained that the two staff members were at fault when they did not inform Hamilton immediately and sought legal emergency contraception without informing the administration. The student reportedly did not want to go to a medical center at the time.

Hamilton told the Gazette in a letter that they had begun a review of the institute’s emergency response protocols for sexual assault, including a task force of staff, medical and legal professionals, and women’s groups to revise their procedures. The letter also said that the institute would update its staff training and student orientation.

“The staff and board of the Monteverde Institute are deeply saddened by the events of the past few months,” Hamilton wrote, according to the Gazette. “We are committed to improving; we will share what we learn with our colleagues working in study-abroad programs in hope that they can benefit from our experience.”

Hamilton reportedly did not comment on the accusations of mistreatment or insensitivity but wrote that the institute has a policy of supporting students with a range of legal, medical and psychological services in Costa Rica.

UMass cut ties with the Amherest-based Living Routes company, which operated the school’s accredited study abroad program with Monteverde Institute, among others, after it waited 20 days report the rape to school administration, according to the Gazette. Living Routes has since closed because of a loss of tuition money from the university.

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