Three instances of physical assault on University students are currently under investigation by The Middletown Police Department (MPD). The first assault occurred in the early hours of the morning of Sept. 13 on Lawn Ave. The second assault occurred the following evening, on Church Street. The third assault occurred on Oct. 5 off campus.
Lieutenant Heather Desmond, the Public Information Officer for the Middletown Police Department, declined to release information about MPD’s progress because the investigations are ongoing. University Public Safety Director Scott Rohde said that his department remains involved in the investigations regarding the Sept. 14 and Oct. 5 incidents.
“We are involved from the standpoint of looking at any camera footage,” Rohde said. “We’ve talked to a number of people that may have information—not that they’re suspects, but maybe they saw something. That piece is still very much in the pipeline, and the encouragement continues to especially students, but anyone in the campus community if they know anything about it, have heard anything about it, to communicate that with us.”
Although all three assaults occurred at night and all three victims were male, Desmond stated the evidence does not suggest that the incidents are connected.
“I would say that these are individual incidents in of themselves; you wouldn’t be able to relate them to one another,” Desmond said. “Right now there are ongoing investigations, and there is nothing connecting them with the same perpetrator.”
Three other physical assaults have been reported in Middletown since the beginning of September, though MPD does not believe they are connected. Rohde also emphasized that although these incidents occurred in rapid succession, they are not necessarily indicative of a pattern.
“I’ve asked people how this compares, and that’s the problem: sometimes it’s unpredictable when it happens and when it happens in bunches, it looks like we have a serious pattern,” Rohde said. “My understanding is that over a typical fall semester, this is not necessarily out of line…I don’t think it means that people are less safe or that there is more of a problem.”
Students, faculty, and staff were informed of all three assaults through email notices from Public Safety. Rohde mentioned the importance of keeping the campus community informed.
“When we send out alerts, [they are] not to get people frightened,” Rohde said. “It’s really in the spirit of transparency because not everyone is connected with the city newspaper, not everyone listens to the evening news….Secondly, it is information gathering. Oftentimes, what a victim knows is specifically what happened to them during that event, and it’s emotional and it’s traumatic, so they may not know what happened just previous to that….Someone else might know that. All of that little stuff is very helpful.”
Student response to the emails has been mixed, with some students noting distinct changes in their behavior while others were unaware of or unaffected by the assaults.
Fred Ayres ’17 feels that he has been more aware of his surroundings since receiving the emails.
“I think that I’m rushing more when it’s late at night and I’m walking home, whereas maybe in the past I would have been a little more lackadaisical,” Ayres said. “I am much more conscious of where I am and who’s around me when I’m out late at night now, which is a huge change compared to what I was like before.”
Yet, a member of the class of 2016 expressed that the incidents have not altered hir behavior.
“I always get them whenever I’m here so I’m desensitized to all of the issues,” the student said. “There is always an issue of assault. I don’t understand why it’s always happening…I’ve never been assaulted and I always walk home at night. I know it’s supposed to be dangerous but because nothing has really happened to me and I don’t know anyone who’s been assaulted, it’s just another email for me.”
An anonymous student said that a close relation to one of the incidents has changed hir take on Public Safety alerts entirely.
“It’s one thing for me to look in my inbox and see a Public Safety alert…I delete the messages before I read them because it is too hard for me to emotionally understand and combat what is happening on campus,” the student said. “However, when the situation happened with a close friend of mine, it wasn’t something that I could just delete from my inbox. It was something that I had to look at every day for weeks, until it healed.”
The student added that they hope other students take Public Safety alerts seriously, as they represent real trauma.
“The fact that I ignored all these other things [is] crazy,” the student said. “I thought that by omitting them physically I could omit them emotionally and I didn’t realize the ways in which they were affecting my life every day. I don’t want anybody to do what I used to do and omit everything. It is hard to understand but it’s important to understand.”
Rohde suggested that all students exercise caution while traveling at night, either by taking the Ride or by moving in groups.
“Statistically, assaultive behavior, when people are in groups, is significantly less,” Rohde said. “Walk in groups. If you must work alone, be alone, study alone for whatever reason, let someone know what your plan is.”
Rohde emphasized carrying a charged cell phone that can be easily reached. He further stressed not wearing headphones while traveling at night, as it reduces one’s ability to hear someone approaching.
“If someone approaches that is unwanted, be loud, and I strongly suggest plain language, shouting ‘Stay away from me,’” Rohde said. “Why that is important is Saturday night [when] there’s a lot of student movement. People may say things…that get lost in the clutter of that verbal noise. But if someone was to hear ‘Leave me alone,’ ‘Stay away from me,’ ‘Don’t touch me,’ those are words where someone is much more likely to react.”
Rohde hopes to host several public safety-oriented training sessions and events with the University community. Ayres expressed a desire to see these types of workshops become regular establishments at the University.
“I wish Wesleyan had self-defense training workshops,” Ayres said. “It is very frightening that students are being attacked on such a frequent basis. I think the blue light system is great, but in some ways it’s not enough. I think in many ways the University needs to pick up the slack and do more to protect students and [defense workshops are] one way they can start.”
Rohde urged students who have any information about a situation or who witness a suspicious situation to contact Public Safety immediately.
“If it’s life-threatening, that’s always a 911 call,” Rohde said. “If you’re not sure, it looks suspicious, or it looks out of place, you call Public Safety and we can assess it. We will always share with [the Middletown Police].”