Students concerned about slow police response
BY DANA NICKEL, NEWS EDITOR
Mason’s police department is investigating a male student who allegedly used his cell phone to record female students in campus bathrooms.
According to a report by ABC7 on Feb. 26, Mason police received a tip on Feb. 4 after a caller said he saw a male student leaving a women’s bathroom with his cell phone out. The caller also stated that he had seen the suspect spending time near the restroom throughout this and previous semesters.
On Feb. 11, the police were called again about the same student hanging around by the women’s bathroom. A photo of the student was also sent to the police. The police were contacted again on Feb. 12. They then entered the women’s bathroom and found the student.
According to a statement released by Mason PD on Facebook on Feb. 26, the officers found the suspect attempting to record women in the bathroom on his phone in the fourth-floor bathroom in Innovation Hall, one of Mason’s largest lecture halls.
The statement described that while no charges were “immediately” filed, Mason police detained and questioned the suspect, consulted with prosecutors and received search warrants for his dorm room and electronic devices.
ABC7 also reported that the student did admit to filming women in the Innovation Hall bathroom while he was being questioned.
The statement concludes by explaining that the investigation is still ongoing, and prosecutors will be consulted again when it has been completed.
Though a report about the incident was published in Mason’s crime log on Feb. 12, and a statement was released to Facebook two weeks later on Feb. 26, Mason students did not receive an alert about the incident until late Feb. 27, via email.
Since the investigation is still ongoing, Mason will not release the name of the student or comment on the incident. Many Mason students have expressed their confusion and outrage on campus and over social media since the news of this incident broke.
Henry Rieniets, a sophomore here at Mason, recalled to Fourth Estate how he found out about this incident. “I found out when another [Mason] student retweeted a local news story,” he explained. “The first thing I thought about [was] why [Mason police] didn’t notify us. These women could have been victims and not known about it.”
Rieniets continued, “After the sexual assaults Fourth Estate uncovered last year, it feels like the university doesn’t care about the safety of its female students.”
Rieniets was one of many students who posted their opinions on this incident and sentiments toward how Mason and the police department handled it.
Though the identity of the student is still unknown to the public, the Mason community is aware that the student lives in Piedmont Hall, a coed residence hall on campus.
One Mason student and resident of Piedmont, who chose to remain under the pseudonym Emma, expressed that this newfound information has created a sense of anxiety for all female students living in the residence hall.
Emma recalled that she happened upon the story from a smaller news outlet. “I was really disgusted and kind of annoyed that I had to find out about it this way,” she stated.
She continued, “When I was watching the story, I saw my building, Piedmont, and [I] was a bit frightened … I have no idea what he looks like or if he’s still living here, but I wish residents of Piedmont were given a warning or some kind of heads up for our own safety.”
In addition to news breaking on this incident, Mason students received a mass email from the police department early in the morning on March 1, in regards to a sexual assault in the Rappahannock Parking Deck. The incident happened at approximately 11 p.m. on Feb. 28, when an unknown male subject came up to a woman in the parking deck, groped her buttocks and wrapped his arms around her before running away. This alert came a few weeks after a previous alert describing an unidentified man who approached a woman by the Johnson Center and forcibly held on to the woman’s arm before the woman was able to leave.
Many Mason students have stated that a possible reason for the increase in Mason alerts surrounding sexual assault and harassment on campus is the lack of lighting at night around North Plaza, the area most affected by campus construction and a popular area in the middle of campus.
Mason students have taken to Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag “#GMULights” to raise awareness of the lack of proper lighting on campus and how it could be contributing to a general lack of safety for female students walking alone after dark.
MacKenzie Cahill, a Mason student, wrote on Facebook, “I have always felt safe on campus until the construction started. More and more women have been attacked and assaulted with the lack of light and abundance of hiding places made available to assailants.”
She continued, “This does not include incidents that were not reported,” but did not offer any additional details on unreported incidents in the post.
For students who feel unsafe on campus, Mason supports a campus safety mobile application, “Rave Guardian.” Mason police also offer safety escorts, and can be reached at (703) 993-2810.
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. It will be updated online as more details are made available.