Some students at Ohio State are questioning their safety after a reported rape was marked as a “continuing threat” by University Police.
Recent information about a rape, which happened between 2:15 and 2:40 a.m. Jan. 25 in a South Campus residence hall, and the suspect — who reportedly returned to the residence hall since the incident — caused police officers to believe there is a “continuing threat,” a University Police public safety notice issued Friday said.
The suspect was described by witnesses as a black man with a “wide” build, between 18 and 20 years old and standing between 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet 9 inches tall. He has short, black hair and a lighter, pockmarked complexion with scars “over most of his face,” including a possible scar over an eyebrow, and he was last seen wearing a Cincinnati Bengals sweatshirt, according to the notice. It is unknown whether the suspect is an OSU affiliate, University Police Chief Paul Denton said Friday.
While the suspect’s return to the residence hall was not last week, Denton said the forensics reports from the initial incident came back last week and partly led to the decision to release a public safety notice.
The suspect “was attempting to contact the victim when he returned,” Denton said in an email Sunday. There were no new developments in the case over the weekend, he added.
The case is being actively investigated as part of “a wide-ranging and in-depth criminal investigation,” the notice said.
Nicole Moore, a first-year in linguistics who lives in Baker Hall East, said the public safety notice “surprised” her.
“I feel pretty uncomfortable actually,” she said Sunday. “This is the first day I’ve gone by myself to go do something (since the notice was sent), and I feel like it’s kinda weird that it’s so late that we’ve been notified.”
The notice was sent about 27 days after the rape reportedly occurred.
Moore said she’s seen a slight change in behavior around her residence hall since the notice was sent to students Friday.
“I noticed a lot more people are kind of staying in their rooms, and my roommate and I are locking our door constantly, like even if we go to the bathroom,” Moore said.
Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president for Student Life, issued a statement to the OSU community about the incident in her weekly online column Sunday.
“I hope you have seen and read the public safety notice that was issued on Friday … While incidents of crime on our campus are unwanted and unfortunate, you should know that the university is steadfastly dedicated to the safety of our campus community,” the column read. “The intent of public safety notices is not put undue stress on the community. However, they help underscore the importance of being cautious, aware and committed to contributing to the safety of Ohio State and our surrounding communities.”
Adams-Gaston also included a list of safety tips, like reporting anyone “who has not followed security protocol when entering a residence hall,” locking all doors and windows regardless of where a student lives and not allowing others to enter residence halls without showing an ID.
Moore said she witnesses people letting others into residence halls frequently.
“There’s always kind of people standing around outside and you think you’re being nice by letting them in,” she said. “You feel really weird if you just leave them there.”
Other students who live on South Campus said they see it often as well.
“I see it happen a lot actually. I try not to do it. If I see someone pounding on the door trying to get in, I usually just pass them by, but that’s me. I see other people who let people in all the time,” said Connor Plensdorf, a first-year in security and intelligence and Arabic who lives in Smith-Steeb Hall. “I try to tell my friends and stuff not to let people in.”
Heather Rebol, a second-year in human nutrition who lives in the Residence on 10th, said she hasn’t felt unsafe since the safety notice was issued.
“I’ve never had a problem in the dorms. It’s actually really quiet in Residence on 10th, you really just see the people you live with and everyone kind of keeps their doors closed and kind of keeps to themselves,” Rebol said.
University spokesman Doug Haddix said Friday signs have been posted in residence hall buildings in response to the issuing of a public safety notice.
“University Housing staff are reminding residents to exercise caution and follow building access policies. Signage is being posted at hall entrances and resident advisers are communicating directly with students on their floors,” Haddix said in an emailed university statement. “In addition to our highly trained law enforcement officials, the university’s residence hall staff and other staff members are trained to recognize, identify and respond to signs of sexual harassment and assault.”
The statement also included the resources available for students who have been sexually assaulted.
“When an incident is reported, the Ohio State Police Division immediately begins a rigorous investigation,” Haddix said. “(Students) are encouraged to report cases of sexual harassment and assault and to take action if they have reason to believe someone else is being or has been assaulted. Survivors of sexual assault are provided a wide variety of support and services including Student Life’s counseling, advocacy, wellness and health services, the Sexual Violence Education and Support team and financial assistance through the Sexual Violence Assistance Fund.”
The notice advised anyone with information about the suspect to contact University Police.
Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said Friday while residence hall staff members weren’t being required to have an official meeting with their residents, he expected staff would “be mindful of and reinforce the safety messages.”
Individuals listed on the report either referred The Lantern to Isaacs for comment, did not provide comment or did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Five rapes have been reported on OSU’s campus since the start of the academic year, all of which are listed as “investigation pending” on the University Police daily log.
About 237,870 people are sexually assaulted each year in the U.S., according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website.
Denton said sexual assault is an issue University Police takes seriously.
“We want to be very certain before we put out information,” he said. “We have to establish the facts of what happened before sending out a public safety notice … (The) facts to the best of our knowledge.”