Last quarter, multiple Western Alerts were sent out reporting incidents of indecent exposure on and around campus. Although three notifications involving indecent exposure have been issued in 2015, University Chief of Police Darin Rasmussen said he wants to assure Western’s campus is safe.
“There seems to be more incidents of indecent exposure this year, but I wouldn’t say it is more of an issue,” Rasmussen said. “I would say it is a chronic issue that Western, not unlike other universities, experience. It is one that we work to identify, investigate, apprehend and deter through education and patrol.”
Indecent exposure, while labeled as a misdemeanor on the first offense by the Revised Code of Washington, becomes a class C felony upon the second offense. Those found guilty will be subjected to jail time of up to 90 days, and fined as found appropriate in court.
The indecent exposure cases have caused Rasmussen to order extra patrols and extra visibility. Although records indicate a slight increase in frequency throughout the nearby Sehome neighborhood and Western’s campus within the last five years, the indecent exposure cases rarely present any additional threat, Rasmussen said.
“People who do indecent exposure are obtaining some kind of personal gratification for what they’re doing,” Rasmussen said. “A very small percentage of those people escalate to other things, for example, grabbing someone. But that doesn’t mean they do not occur.”
The majority of incidents reported during the school year have occurred on streets surrounding the campus, but a case on Thursday, Feb. 5, involved a man who exposed and touched himself on the fourth floor of Wilson Library.
When police arrived, the man, aged 25 and identified as not being a Western student, was found masturbating in the west corner, which overlooks a study hall, according to public records. The man was arrested for first-degree trespassing and indecent exposure.
Some students said the alerts have created more awareness than panic.
“It doesn’t make me worry about Western. It is a very safe place to be,” Western sophomore Kristin Garner said. “It just makes me think ‘what would I do in that situation?’ and it helps get the news out so people can come up with ideas on how they could react if it were to happen to them.”
The recent reports, while all targeting females, don’t appear to pose much concern for the men on campus, Western sophomore Sepand Nikzad said.
“I don’t feel victimized because I’m a guy, and sometimes I feel like the constancy of the reports almost downplays it,” Nikzad said. “I thought, ‘What is going on? Why is everyone exposing themselves?’”
The rate of indecent exposure for winter quarter appears to mimic a similar pattern of voyeurism last year as three Western Alerts regarding men looking into women’s windows near campus were sent out in February 2014. The weather changing during this time, Rasmussen said, could likely be a factor.
“When it is cold, rainy or snowy, it is less likely to have an outdoor crime occur as opposed to an indoor crime,” Rasmussen said. “When the weather starts getting nicer, people start walking outside and spending more time outside and you start to see more interaction with outdoor situations.”
The alerts are associated with the Jeanne Clery Act, which, according to the act’s website, requires “colleges and universities, both public and private, participating in federal student aid programs to disclose campus safety information” with focus on any threats of sexual violence along with other emergencies.
The Western Alert system was updated in 2014 to a dashboard referred to as RAVE, which has allowed for a quicker notification of emergencies to Western’s students, Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen said police are excited about the system as it will increase awareness for students and enhance their safety. He said University Police can enforce safety on campus in various ways.
“There is safety and there is the perception of safety,” Rasmussen said. “It is one thing to say we have a very safe campus — which we do — and it is another thing to address people’s concerns for safety and that has to do with other things like lighting, walkways, Green Coat escorts and those kinds of things.”
Rasmussen said students should take reasonable precautions such as carrying a fully charged phone, telling friends where they are going and walking with others. He said he encourages students to utilize the Green Coat escorts, who are available to accompany any student across campus as part of the free service offered by the University Police.