A student was physically assaulted by an unknown individual in the High Rise/Low Rise area on Sunday, Sept. 10 at 9:00 p.m., according to a campus-wide email sent by Director of Public Safety (PSafe) Scott Rohde. The assailant grabbed the student around her waist and and touched her face before fleeing toward High Street after the student screamed. The incident was reported to the Middletown Police Department (MPD) and is currently being investigated with no new leads.
The student reported the assault to PSafe after returning to her residence at High/Low Rise about 10 minutes after it occurred, prompting a police report and a thorough check of the area. The police report confirms that the incident took place near the Power Plant on High Street, an area that does not have video surveillance. Following PSafe procedures, an email was sent to all students on campus about the assault.
“We knew that there was no real ongoing threat to the community at that point,” Rohde said. “We did want to share that matter of transparency with the community and sometimes people may have seen something, been aware of something, or had something happen themselves and would contact us.”
In response to the email, community members have reached out to PSafe to clarify safety tips, but no new leads about the suspect have been generated. The assailant in question was not known to the student, and limited details are known about their identity, restricting the scope of the investigation. MPD and PSafe officers all canvassed the area with no results. In addition to having no clear suspects, there is also no known motive for the assault at this time.
“Our officers will—and I know they did in this case—they’ll look for surveillance cameras, they will look for even Ring cameras in the area that might have captured the person,” MPD Captain Brian Hubbs said. “There was no video coverage of that particular area, so we were unable to get that guy leaving the area or being seen…at a different angle to be able to identify him.”
Although this assault is a concerning incident, PSafe does not see cases like this happen often on campus.
“It certainly happens, time to time, but it’s not a regular occurrence by any means,” Rohde said. “I can tell you it is extremely rare, extremely—and I mean single digits since my start here at Wesleyan almost 10 years ago—extremely rare, to see a stranger complete a physical assault of a student.”
The MPD confirmed that they also do not see a concerning pattern of crimes like this happening in Middletown.
“It’s really not very common, especially something as discreet as someone sneaking up behind someone,” Hubbs said. “Most of the time when we have assault complaints in town, it’s typically…somebody that they can either see coming or they have some sort of problems with or interactions with prior to. So this is kind of a unique situation.”
Despite not being a frequent occurrence on campus or in the greater Middletown area, PSafe is always focused on improving safety for everyone at the University. In response to the assault, officers have made an effort to be more present and visible in the area around Church Street and Williams Street leading to High/Low Rise and monitoring all video footage to catch anything they may have missed. However, they have not been able to identify additional sightings of the suspect, even with support from the MPD and their network.
“[The reporting officer] also added [the incident] to what we call a Slack,” Hubbs said. “It’s like a law enforcement program that sends out descriptors of an incident to see if anybody recognizes that type of MO or that type of description of clothing or physical descriptors, etc…. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything else to add to the case.”
The all-campus email announcing the incident included valuable safety tips for concerned students, such as avoiding walking alone in the dark, taking the Ride at night wherever possible, locking residential doors and windows, and reporting any suspicious activity to PSafe immediately.
“When we’ve seen people walk even in groups of two or greater, it dramatically decreases the probability of this kind of contact,” Rohde said. “It’s something we do encourage after dark, and also reminding people that we’re available 24/7. If you ever feel uncomfortable, the Ride is not immediately available and a student needs an escort to their location, we will provide that service.”
In addition to Rohde’s tips for safety, Hubbs also emphasized the importance of being aware of your surroundings.
“Do what you can to eliminate noise distractions such as headphones or having loud music playing so that you can actually hear someone approaching,” Hubbs said. “If you’re gonna stop in an area, just maybe stop and look around first…. You might wanna think twice and just continue walking into a better lit area or a more populated area.”
To further improve campus safety, PSafe partners with Facilities to survey and take note of areas on campus that are poorly lit or need more cameras on what they call their lighting walk, which occurs annually in October. PSafe includes members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) on these lighting walks to allow students the opportunity to contribute to their efforts.
“The lighting walk originally was to look only for areas that may need additional lighting,” Rohde said. “It’s also looking…at environmental factors that could affect safety around campus, like overgrown bushes, doors that are propped open…. It’s a great opportunity not only to look at lighting, but to look at other aspects of safety.”
Additionally, PSafe will be visiting wood frame houses in the coming weeks to hand out safety information and give students who are not living in community-based housing such as apartments or dorms the opportunity to ask questions about campus services. This is a joint effort in conjunction with the Office of Residential Life to ensure students are properly informed about safety issues.
“We’re gonna be knocking on their doors, sharing information about what Public Safety does, safety and security tips, as well as encouraging and reminding people to register parties and to follow party guidelines,” Rohde said. “And that may seem a little off track, but it really is connected because many of these incidents, whether it is verbal harassment or just even the student feels uncomfortable about the presence of someone, oftentimes it’s after or on route to a scheduled party.”
Even though PSafe takes on an enforcement role, they want students to be aware that they are around to help.
“Our role is to be a safety partner,” Rohde said. “What we really want students to remember is that we are there to keep this campus safe for everyone and engage with them in that journey during their four years here at Wesleyan.”
All students are encouraged to reach out for help and report issues to the MPD or PSafe whenever they are feeling unsafe, but also to be mindful of the seriousness of the incident before placing a call.
“[Public Safety] should probably be the first responders to something that’s non-emergency type of calls for service, like a suspicious person that they just want checked out in the area,” Hubbs said. “If it’s something that’s of a violent nature, or an [Emergency Medical Services] nature, 911 is typically the better alternative in this particular case.”
Students are encouraged to remain vigilant and stay informed about happenings on campus by reading the PSafe Awareness Reports, which can be found on the PSafe website.
“They’re updated at our front desk every day,” Rohde said. “Right now due to some vacations and also a lot of trying to get the parking permits registered and out and some of the other work, there may be a little bit of a delay, but our ideal goal is to have it current within one week or less so that students can make that reference.”
Caleb Henning can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.