After a man police say was not a doctor allegedly masqueraded as one in order to trick a Vermont college student into a nude physical exam, there are new calls for greater understanding of sexual violence.
"Survivors deserve compassion," said Kerri Duquette-Hoffman, the executive director of WomenSafe, a non-profit agency which serves sexual assault survivors in Addison County. "Anyone in our community could be vulnerable to predatory sexual behavior."
Prosecutors said 31-year-old Nam Vu Bui of Houston, Texas, was pretending to be a researcher of early cervical cancer detection when he tricked a Middlebury College student into a bogus pelvic exam.
Duquette-Hoffman told necn the allegations reflect predatory grooming behavior, where someone may build trust with a potential target over a period of time.
The advocate likened sexual grooming behavior to how a telephone scammer may conduct themselves while committing financial fraud, noting the emotions of trusting people can sometimes be exploited for a criminal's gain.
"That relationship can be manipulated emotionally," Duquette-Hoffman noted. "It's not about the survivor's intelligence, it's not about their income level, it's not about their upbringing. It's all about that trust and emotional connection the person has built with them, and the predator's ability to use that as leverage."
Duquette-Hoffman noted that in Vermont, the majority of sexual violence crimes are committed by a survivor's acquaintance.
In the Vu Bui case, police say the phony hospital resident duped a friend on campus into introducing him to female classmates, then offered financial incentives, and seemed to know his stuff when talking about how the exam could advance life-saving knowledge of cancer.
Vu Bui has denied a sexual assault charge, along with other criminal charges, and his lawyer has questioned the strength of some of the evidence.
While the Middlebury Police Department continues its criminal investigation, the college has opened an inquiry of its own into how the suspect was able to be on campus as an unregistered guest of a student.
Also, the school said it offers many resources to students who report having experienced sexual misconduct. Those include counseling, help understanding legal options, and support like a new dorm room or academic accommodations.
"Students—we are supportive of each other," said Ellie Reinhardt, the editor-in-chief of the Middlebury Campus newspaper.
Reinhardt said the student body takes sexual violence prevention very seriously.
"This is definitely something a lot of students have been talking about and are concerned about," Reinhardt said. "How can we make sure this type of thing doesn't happen to others: to our friends, those who are close to us, those who are not close to us, and just in class?"
Duquette-Hoffman pointed Vermonters who want support after sexual violence to the state's 24/7 hotline, at 1 (800) 489-7273.