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Sexual predator rearrested
Women's advocates urge continued vigilance

(March 22, 1999)

UConn police earlier this month were quick to alert the community to the presence on campus of a "charming" stranger who was approaching women and, allegedly, trying to lure them into his car and home with offers of baby- and dog-sitting jobs. When arrested March 9, police discovered that John Urban was a convicted sexual predator who had rope, handcuffs and a weapon in his car.

The community breathed a sigh of relief as Urban was brought to court and sent back to Massachusetts with his father. And, last Thursday, UConn police again arrested Urban, charging him with three counts of third-degree stalking, and seven counts of disorderly conduct. At press time, he was being held at the police station in lieu of $100,000 bond. Tomorrow, Urban is scheduled to appear in Rockville Superior Court to be arraigned on the original weapons possession charge.

But some women's safety advocates on campus wonder whether the Storrs campus is any safer today than it was two weeks ago, despite the solid police work that took Urban off the streets.

"My concern is, what will faculty, staff and students do differently?" says Kathleen Holgerson, director of the Women's Center. "I'm concerned that we will fall into the trap of 'This big bad man from Massachusetts invaded our campus, and now he's gone.' But being concerned about people we know is just as valid a concern as the one about strangers hiding in the bushes. We have to find a way to make sure our students listen to the educational programming during orientation, and be aware of all the dangers. Our message has to be consistent."

Holgerson says the police department's safe rides escort service, which provides a walking escort or a ride to anyone requesting it, has received excellent grades from people who have taken advantage of the program. The program, which operates from around dusk until 3 a.m., is accessible by calling the police department at (860) 486-4800. Sgt. Rhoda Averna says the program is highly popular, with more than 12,000 escorts provided on campus between September 1998 and January 1999.

Still, Holgerson adds, until something like Urban's arrest makes headlines, too few people use the programs that are available, including programming regarding acquaintance rape and the personal and property safety programs police are pleased to provide on request. And as long as convicted sexual offenders are released from jail despite prosecutor's recommendations, or allowed out on a low bail, problems will continue to crop up.

"What can we do differently? We can work with the courts. We can write to our legislators and change laws, regulations. Those are the places where we can make dents in the problem. As long as there are people out there who get away with this, the violence will continue," she says.

And UConn police will keep trying to stop them, says Major Ronald Blicher.

"The UConn Police Department is committed to the safety of this campus, as evidenced by our work in alerting the community to Urban's presence and the fine detective work that resulted in his arrest. We will continue to take whatever steps are necessary to protect this community," he said.

None of the 57 women was hurt, says Blicher. He adds that UConn police continue to discuss what additional measures they may take to protect the community in the wake of the event.

UConn and state police are continuing their investigation, Blicher adds, and women who may have been approached by Urban are urged to call the department at (860) 486-4800. He also urges women to continue to be vigilant, not just with strangers but also with acquaintances who, he says, are often perpetrators of sexually-related incidents.

Richard Veilleux