Second sexual assault at U of M has campus on edge

Middlebrook Hall
Middlebrook Hall, a dorm on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis.
MPR Photo/Art Hughes

There's nothing connecting any of the three recent sexual assaults on or near the U of M campus. Suspect descriptions in two of the incidents don't match. The victim in the most recent assault over the weekend hasn't been able to provide any useful description to police.

The whole thing has graduating senior Michelle Kotek uneasy as she takes a break from studying.

"I just can't stop thinking about it when I'm walking home from school or something. I made sure to pull out my mace and put it on my key chain this week, because I'm leaving school and the last thing I want is more stress on me," Kotek said. "But I have to be nervous walking home from the bus at night. You have to keep your guard up all the time. It's just not very conducive environment to learning."

Kotek said she and her housemates have discussed hiding baseball bats or other items around the house to use as weapons in case of an intruder. Her friend, junior Carsen Ott, said it seems sexual assaults and violent crime in general are increasing in frequency.

"I just really think that takes up a lot of my time is worrying about that and being scared to be home alone, even though I want to be in a quiet atmosphere, and you're like 'yes I have the house to myself' you're like this is kind of scary too. I don't really want to be here alone," Ott said.

Ott said last fall semester she awoke in her apartment to find an intruder hiding in her closet. The intruder escaped, and she wasn't harmed.

Both Ott and Kotek live in the Como neighborhood, a haven for student renters near campus. It's also the location of a sexual assault a week ago by a man who broke into a recently-enrolled student's apartment. The woman broke her ankle as she escaped out a second story window. A week before two men forced a student into a residence hall bathroom where they assaulted her. In the most recent attack, a woman woke in her campus room to find a person touching her.

Three sexual assaults in three weekends is a troubling way to end the spring semester. Twin Cities Campus Police Chief Greg Hestness said such high profile crimes on campus are rare.

"The last few years in southeast Minneapolis have been good years, including the campus," Hestness said. "But you'll get two or three incidents like this that are of great concern. They're not frequent be they're very serious and causes great anxiety in the community."

After the first assault, Hestness increased patrols in the area and started working on installing alarms on Pioneer Hall's doors to prevent them from being propped open for extended periods. He said police are working with campus housing officials to come up with a strategy for Middlebrook Hall where the most recent assault occurred. He said one of the more difficult problems is getting students to take threats seriously.

"We could make a billion dollars in investments, but if we don't have the community's cooperation they're going to defeat everything we do," Hestness said.

Campus police recorded three reported sexual assaults last year, two the year before that. The entire second police precinct has seen 15 sexual assaults so far this year, up from 13 in the same time the year before. The area is among the lowest in Minneapolis for sexual assault reports.