Women on alert after assaults at West Chester University

"I make sure I'm not walking alone," Amirah Gee, 19. said. "If my friends are out, I say, 'Text me.' "
"I make sure I'm not walking alone," Amirah Gee, 19. said. "If my friends are out, I say, 'Text me.' " (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 23, 2014

WEST CHESTER After three women reported being sexually assaulted at West Chester University in three weeks, students Monday said they were taking precautions but not panicking.

"I make sure I'm not walking alone," sophomore Amirah Gee, 19, said. "If my friends are out, I say, 'Text me when you get to your room,' so I know they're OK."

Officials said the rash of reported attacks - on a campus where, according to a university safety report, seven sexual offenses were reported in all of 2012 - is unusual but not alarming. Spokeswoman Pam Sheridan said the increase could mean more students are reporting assaults, not that more are taking place.

Nationally, about one in five women is sexually assaulted while at college, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But just 12 percent of those incidents are reported, said Alison Kiss, executive director of the Wayne-based Clery Center for Security on Campus. Kiss said spikes in reports can often be a good sign.

"It means students are coming forward, and when they come forward they're being treated fairly," she said.

In two of the reported West Chester incidents - one March 30 and a second April 4 - the women said they knew their attackers, according to campus police. Sheridan said those women do not plan to press criminal charges.

The third incident, which is under investigation by campus police, took place early Saturday in a university residence, according to the police. The alleged attacker was described as a white male, 5 feet, 4 inches tall, of small, thin build, and wearing a black hoodie. The police have not released further details about the incident.

Outside the Sykes Student Union on Monday, where students two weeks from finals dashed between classes, most women said they felt safe but had been more vigilant than typical about walking with friends late at night.

"It scares me. . . . It means probably our school safety isn't up to what it should be," said 22-year-old Tiffany Hundley, of Philadelphia.

Others said receiving e-mails about crime - including the assaults and also an armed robbery reported at the student union in February - desensitizes them rather than causing alarm.

"We're not used to it, and it's not OK," said Beth Beresford, an 18-year-old freshman from Media. "But it's not a surprise that it does happen."


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny

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