Garage assault sparks student concerns about sexual abuse, University communication

Media Credit: Meghan Flanagan | Photographer

The Metropolitan Police Department said the suspect committed assault with the intent to commit first degree sexual abuse, leaving the victim with non-life-threatening injuries.

Some students are criticizing the University’s communication about an assault on campus last Monday after an unknown suspect wounded a staff member who was transported to the hospital with “non-life threatening” injuries, according to a Metropolitan Police Department release.

The MPD release states that the suspect assaulted the staff member at the G Street Garage with an “intent to commit first-degree sexual abuse,” but 40 minutes later, University officials sent an email to the GW community about the crime without any mention of potential sexual abuse. Officials sent out a second email Tuesday acknowledging the intent to commit sexual abuse and stressing their commitment to campus safety, but students said University officials should have been quicker to notify students that the suspect intended to commit sexual abuse.

“We understand the level of alarm due to the recent assault with intent to commit sexual abuse that is being investigated by Metropolitan Police Department Detectives that occurred at the G Street garage,” the email reads. “The safety of the members of our community is always our primary responsibility, and we take it very seriously.”

University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said officials were already “in the process” of sending the email to the GW community when MPD issued its release that reported the intent to commit sexual abuse Monday night. Nosal said GW Police Department officers have increased patrols around the G Street Garage and other garages on campus, but she declined to say whether officers have been reassigned from other duties as part of the patrols.

She said panic buttons in garages, which are marked with bright orange signs, are available to parking garage users in case of emergency.

“When a panic button is activated, the GWPD dispatcher is alerted of the location and immediately sends officers to the location to assist,” she said in an email. “Parking garage patrons should familiarize themselves with these buttons and their locations.”

Some students said they were frustrated that officials only confirmed the intent to commit sexual abuse 18 hours after MPD tweeted the full details of the suspect’s criminal charges.

Sophomore Maddie Billet said she doesn’t understand why the University didn’t include information about the intent to commit sexual abuse in its original email.

“If they already knew the facts, then why didn’t they tell us?” she said in an interview.

Billet said the assault made her realize she could be in danger as a woman on campus no matter the time or location. She said living in Shenkman Hall near the outskirts of campus, she feels nervous about getting dinner at night in light of other recent assaults near the Foggy Bottom Metro station.

“That really put it into perspective, for me at least, this could happen anywhere at any time,” she said.

Student Association Sen. Cordelia Scales, SEAS-U and senate chairperson pro tempore, said the University’s delay in reporting that the assault was sexual in nature is “unacceptable,” and she feels less comfortable on campus because of the assault and GW’s level of communication. Scales, who said she is a survivor of sexual assault, said the University put women at risk by not sharing the information sooner and should have notified the community that police were searching for a man charged with an intent to commit sexual assault.

“I thought that by being on campus, near government buildings with GWPD all around, I’d be safe,” Scales said.

Scales said she doesn’t think the department has significantly raised the number of patrols on campus, and she hasn’t noticed any uptick in GWPD’s presence. She added that officials likely said they would ramp up security to make the campus community “feel better.”

“Now, I’m not even sure I feel safe on campus during the day because that event happened at 5:30 in the afternoon, which is pretty much broad daylight at this point in the year,” Scales said. “And so I don’t know where I’m safe, I don’t know who I can trust, it’s an awful feeling.”

Sophomore Maria Leon-Acosta said she doesn’t feel safe at night because of the recent incident and GW’s “lack of transparency.” Leon-Acosta said she didn’t know the incident was an assault with the intent to commit sexual abuse until she saw MPD’s release on Twitter.

“GW has made it clear that it doesn’t really care about maintaining its student safety and being transparent about things that happen on campus that threaten student safety,” she said. “That lack of transparency really doesn’t make me feel safe at all.”

Leon-Acosta said GWPD has not shared specific details about how they would increase patrols on campus, and she hasn’t noticed an increase in police presence on campus.

“Maybe at night they help or maybe at night they’re more intense,” she said. “But I think communication is one of the best first steps that GW can take to improve safety.”

Tyler Krambeer contributed reporting.

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