There have been four incidents of male suspects grabbing or physically harassing female Northwestern students in recent weeks, and one additional incident of two male suspects making disparaging and rude comments to two female students at night. Many students expressed concern over how long it took NUPD to alert students about the crimes.
The most recent two incidents occurred on Nov. 13 around 5 p.m., according to an email from NUPD Chief of Police Bruce Lewis. Two female students reported that one male wearing a gray jacket and another male wearing a red jacket, both speaking with distinctive European accents, made several rude and disparaging comments but did not make any physical contact while walking in the 1900 block of Sheridan Rd. At 5:10 p.m., another female student reported that two males in their mid 20's - early 30's made a rude comment and then attempted to grab her as she was walking southbound on Chicago Ave., according to the email. Both incidents are currently being investigated by Evanston police.
The first incident reportedly took place Oct. 28 around 10 p.m. at the intersection of Chicago Ave. and Sheridan Rd. Lewis said in a campus-wide email that “a tall white male with blonde hair and a Russian accent” approached a female Northwestern student from behind and grabbed her backpack while saying obscene comments to her. She was able to get away and contact police, but NUPD was not able to find the suspect.
The second incident, according to Lewis, occurred on Nov. 4 on University Place near Scott Hall. Lewis said that “a Hispanic male with black hair” grabbed another female Northwestern student from behind. A source close to the witness said that the student was waiting for a friend at the location when this man approached her, making her nervous and prompting her to attempt to walk away before he grabbed her and asked for her phone number. She was also able to get away and contact NUPD. The attacker was identified by this source as 21-year-old Yontan Vazquez (reportedly no Northwestern affiliation). Lewis’s email stated that the suspect was apprehended on account of battery and is now being held in Cook County Jail.
The third incident took place past Thursday, Nov. 8, around 5:30 p.m. in South campus – on Hinman Avenue, near Sheridan Road. Another female Northwestern student was reportedly grabbed from behind by “two approximately six-feet-tall males” and she was able to get away. The two men have not been found.
While Lewis sent out the two emails detailing the incidents on Nov 8 and 9, students living on South campus said that they learned of the incidents much earlier. Students said that word of the incidents also spread through word of mouth – among friends, RAs, parents and sorority group chats.
Medill sophomore Alexa Mikhail, who lives in the sorority quad, said that she originally heard of the incidents via her sorority’s group chat a couple of weeks ago.
“I think that it kind of shows badly on how [Northwestern officials] feel on women’s safety when we weren’t actually emailed about these incidents right away,” Mikhail said.
Mikhail said that she thinks it should only have taken one incident to prompt the University to notify the entire community, just as it does with emailed reports of crimes such as robberies and break-ins. Mikhail pointed to the fact that Chicago news divisions reported on the issue at a similar time that or even before the University notified students.
“I honestly was paranoid. I was very afraid – I was turning around like every two seconds as I’m walking back. ” Mikhail said. “I don’t feel safe on my own campus."
Weinberg freshman Fizzah Jaffer, also lives in the sorority quad close to where the incidents occurred. Regarding her initially finding out about these attacks through friends, rather than from the University, she said: “It was just frustrating because I didn’t know how much was true and how much was just rumors and panic … I think it’s spooking everyone, not just girls.”
She said that one male friend, Weinberg freshman Bobby Read, will take the shuttle or walk with her and that they both check in on each other to make sure that they are both safe. As a member of multiple student organizations on campus that often meet late into the night and early morning, Read said that, even before these incidents occurred, he and his friends have always tried to take precautions while walking home. Now, these precautions have been heightened.
“The fact that it’s happened three times in the past almost two and a half weeks has been a real shock and an eye-opener to me,” Read said.
After hearing about these incidents, Mikhail said that she has been motivated to take extra precautions, such as carrying pepper spray and walking home with others.
“The fact that we have to literally walk around with the button of pepper spray in our hands in case we are attacked coming back from class is just ridiculous,” Mikhail said.
Read also commented on the disconcerting nature of these incidents.
“I don’t understand why it happens. I don’t understand why people think it’s okay. I don’t understand why males think it’s okay,” Read said.
Lewis also encouraged the Northwestern and Evanston communities to help spread awareness of such incidents and to take precautions in order to prevent them from happening again.
In response to the incidents, there has been a noticeable boost in the number of NUPD security officers on patrol and students have organized self-defense classes in order to help students, particularly females, to feel safer on campus.
“I’m so happy that the women that it happened to spoke up,” Jaffer said. “I’m glad that we’re all aware of it."
This story was updated Nov. 13 at 11 p.m. to include additional information about the two new incidents. It was also updated on Nov. 14 at 8:15 p.m. to clarify the time frame in which parents were notified of the crime alerts.