GVSU addresses off-campus sexual assaults

Increased police presence, security measures in place after four reported sexual assaults

By Hannah Lentz | 10/2/16 11:11pm

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Since the start of this semester, four sexual assaults have been reported at Grand Valley State University. All four sexual assaults have occurred off campus and were perpetrated by individuals the victims did not recognize.

After several email notifications about student safety were distributed to Lakers, administrators are addressing students' fears about the rash of reports. During the University Academic Senate meeting Friday, Sept. 28, faculty and administrators focused on the recent increase in reported sexual assaults near campus.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff - Sgt. Jeff Stoll wraps up the night shift by entering reports into his in-car computer on Oct. 25.

"We have been really worried and saddened by this rash of sexual assaults near our campus," said Gayle Davis, provost and executive vice president for academic and student affairs. "We have had an all-hands-on-deck approach to thinking about how we are communicating issues and what we can do to further the preventative actions we're taking on campus to prevent this kind of activity."

Additional security measures include an increase in communication with on-campus residence assistants, increased police patrols during the weekends, collaboration with student leaders on matters of creating an educated community and a deeper look at busing routes and schedules.

All investigations regarding these reported acts of violence are under investigation by Ottawa County officials and as information is available, the community will be updated, said Dean of Students Eileen Sullivan. Though there is no official evidence these crimes are related, Sullivan mentioned the fact that at least two of the reports came in close proximity to each other, featuring similar details.

"We want to stress the fact that it's always the perpetrators' fault in these kinds of situations and we want to keep our students safe," Sullivan said "These cases are a little bit unusual because these are three reports of stranger assaults that are, to date, unsolved."

In addition to the importance of keeping the community updated and aware, Sullivan commented on the actions of the university in compliance with the Clery Act laws set in place for public universities. She touched on the importance of timely warnings and the GVSU administration's ongoing commitment to student safety.

"Clery doesn't require reports of off-campus crimes but we have so many students that live in areas where these assaults have taken place that we didn't think twice about issuing the brief statements that you received," she said.

Currently, the GVSU police department and university administration are in communication with the Ottawa County Sheriff's Department, as the locations where the most recent sexual assaults have taken place have been under Ottawa County's jurisdiction. GVPD has offered its support in taking safety measures to prevent additional crime from the perpetrator or perpetrators of the recent acts of sexual violence.

Following the timely warnings sent out to students after the reports of assault, Sullivan partnered with Vice President of Inclusion and Equity Jesse Bernal to send out additional information about resources available to students. Additionally, an email was sent out to community members from President Thomas Haas with a more detailed commentary on recent incidents.

In order to ensure the university is taking all possible measures of prevention, Sullivan has been in talks with housing and residence life about educational opportunities across campus. Sullivan also stressed the university's recent communication with off-campus landlords about increased security and surveillance measures, since the majority of students live at off-campus locations.

"We only house 6,000 students (on campus), so with 25,000 students between both campuses, we have a lot of students who are living in the surrounding area," Sullivan said.

After talking with off-campus representatives, university officials have come together to talk about security mechanisms on campus as well, including additional lighting, cameras and surveillance upgrades.

One security addition that was brought up at the Thursday, Sept. 29 town hall meeting on sexual assault was the idea of adding "blue light" safety beacons across campus in case of emergency. Though the university is taking all recommendations for student's safety into consideration, Sullivan said they are not sure that adding these stations around campus is the best option.

"I think that blue lights came about during a time before everyone had a smartphone and so, on college campuses, in some ways, they are not used as much," Sullivan said. "However, we are going to take every suggestion to heart on what folks think we should do for enhancement.

"Students are talking about these incidents off campus and they're notably scared," Sullivan said. "We are doing everything we do with students' safety in mind."

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