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BYU student attacked in Fiji says ordeal could have been prevented

Published: Sunday, June 10 2012 6:25 p.m. MDT

"I panicked and got my strength back, and I kicked the guy," she said. "He went off of me, and I ran as fast as I could."

Though disoriented at first, Hilary made it back to the house where she had been staying. HELP leaders had been searching for the woman and already had involved the police.

The U.S. Embassy coordinated medical treatment for Hilary and also were looking into reports that the group had been threatened by a landlord after learning HELP wanted to move out of the house, she said.

"The embassy told me at the time they believe my attack was connected to a threat that had happened earlier that day that I had not been informed of," Hilary said.

HELP leaders had found another house in a different neighborhood that better fit the group's needs, she said, but the landlord "went crazy" when he was informed the group planned to move out.

Hilary said the landlord threatened one of the group's directors, saying, "I'm going to get you."

"So I was not informed that there was a threat that same afternoon I was attacked," she said. "I feel like it could have been prevented."

Matthew Colling, HELP's executive director, said "every possible safety precaution" has been taken to keep student volunteers safe.

"I just feel so awful that she had to go through something like that," Colling said, "and I'm sorry for any pain and suffering that it's caused."

He said such an attack is "incredibly rare for Fiji and especially the town in which our team was located."

Colling says safety trainings were provided to the group, before the volunteers left for Fiji and after they arrived. Students also receive safety handbooks that they're supposed to read before they leave.

"One of the things in the handbook is that you're supposed to follow the buddy system," he said. "You're always supposed to be with someone."

Colling says Hilary should not have gone to the Internet cafe alone and was in violation of the code of conduct she signed before leaving by doing so.

"Whenever you're going overseas, you do always run the risk of finding yourself in a compromising safety situation," he said.

HELP International has offered to pay for counseling for Hilary, though Colling says he hadn't spoken with the woman as of Sunday afternoon.

Hilary said she believes HELP International "stands for a great purpose" and "can do great things."

But volunteers aren't given all the information they need about their safety prior to agreeing to join the group, she said.

Hilary, who is taking one correspondence course at BYU this summer, says she plans to return to Utah in the fall to pursue a masters degree at the University of Utah.

Contributing: Sandra Yi and Ashley Kewish

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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