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Voyeurism in East Quad continues despite locks on bathroom doors

Voyeurism in East Quad continues despite locks on bathroom doors

By Emily Sorkin Smith and Hannah Schuster

Section: Featured, News

May 6, 2016

UPDATED 5/8 

A student reported an incident of voyeurism in East Quad last month, the eighth reported incident in the past three academic years and the fifth reported incident since Brandeis installed locks on the bathroom doors in both Hassenfeld and Pomerantz residence halls in February 2014.

After three incidents concentrated in December 2013 and January 2014, Brandeis installed the locks. In at least one, there was a someone identified a suspect who was “confirmed to not be a Brandeis community member,” according to Tim Touchette, the director of the Department of Community Living (DCL). 

The issue, however, persisted the following year and Gaby Yeshua ’17, who was the victim of voyeurism in the fall, described the perpetrator to police as a student. Yeshua was the victim of a second incident in March, but did not see the perpetrator. Yeshua lived on the third floor of Hassenfeld where the bathrooms are handicap accessible and do not have locks; however the other incidents occurred in bathrooms with locks. In the April 11 incident last month, Gabriella Potter ’18 described the perpetrator as a caucasian male student with curly brown hair and brown eyes.

“I saw the person. They were definitely student age, and their face was familiar enough where … they aren’t living on my hall, but I have definitely passed them in some capacity,” said Potter.  

The police did not release these descriptions to students via email in either Yeshua or Potter’s case.

The police did release detailed descriptions of a caucasian male and an Asian male in incidents that occurred in January 2014 (pre-locks) and August 2014 (post-locks) respectively, according to articles in both student newspapers. 

The Brandeis Hoot asked Ed Callahan, director of Public Safety, why descriptions are only released in certain cases, and Callahan said, “We attempt to provide as much information as possible that will assist in leading to the identification of the individual(s) involved without hampering the investigation.” 

He did add, “Speaking generally, reports often reflect descriptions of a college age male, but this is by no means a definitive description.” 

On April 13, Ariel Hernandez, the Area Coordinator for East, emailed residents about the last incident, stating this had happened in the past due to East’s proximity to Waltham. However, this was in reference to the past suspect, not a definitive statement about the identity of the most recent perpetrator, he told The Brandeis Hoot. 

After hearing of the April 11 occurrence, Yeshua began an initiative to confront the issue. She reached out on social media, asking students who had experienced voyeurism to send her their stories and asking all students to send her ideas to address the problem. Yeshua is compiling a list of suggestions that she plans to present to Andrew Flagel, the senior vice president for students and enrollment, ideally next semester. 

Potter, Yeshua and students who have contacted her want to see increased security measures in East Quad, with ideas including security cameras outside the bathrooms or bells on the doors that ring as it opens. Hernandez also asked students to come to him with ideas. He said several proposed adding doors or larger curtains to the showers. With the budget he has available, Hernandez wants to examine possible solutions.

Despite the existence of the locks, students often prop open the doors with fire extinguishers, jam the locks or cover them with tape. Touchette reminded students not to tamper with the locks as this undermines the security feature. He said there is “responsibility in the community” to prevent this from happening. Yeshua called the locks “one of the weakest deterrents,” compared to systems that could alert others to the incident. Potter also called the locks ineffective because students have keys and “you can never get [the curtains] to cover both sides.” 

Potter thinks the way the university educates students on these incidents needs to improve. They became frustrated emailing back and forth with administrators including Callahan, Touchette and Flagel, asking someone to send a campus-wide email about the voyeurism. 

If students do not know about the incidents, “they have no idea where to turn for help/reporting which as we all know is essential,” Potter wrote to Flagel. 

Touchette said in an email exchange with Potter the university considers several factors in deciding whether to send campus-wide emails, including whether the events happened in multiple locations. 

In an April 14 email to Potter, he said, “We currently have no reports of any other peeping incidents from any other campus residences. A message was sent to East residents,” which is “in line with our process when incidents of this nature are reported. We do not inform the entire campus as it often causes more alarm than assistance/awareness.” Ultimately, Flagel and Callahan sent a campus-wide email on April 28 informing students of the voyeurism as well as cautioning them to act responsibly during senior week.  

“I’m happy that an email was sent out, [but] it should not have taken a student that much work,” said Potter. They also criticized officers and administrations for engaging in “victim blaming” throughout this process, often telling them, “I’m sorry you feel this way,” or putting the focus on the community to protect themselves against these incidents. 

Samantha Daniels ’16, a community advisor (CA), spoke with Touchette about ways for DCL to better communicate with the campus regarding sexual assault, whether it be prevention or response. She said that often they are very “reactionary” in situations like these. 

Daniels said, “I kind of said to him okay, the communication the university has about the Peeping Tom is honestly just a small piece of a larger puzzle of how DCL is communicating to students at large about sexual violence, because Peeping Tom is just one part of this … When you’re asking me how to communicate and [saying] that you take the Peeping Tom issue seriously, we then have to have a conversation about how you communicate [to students] that you’re taking sexual violence seriously.”

In response to the April 11 incident, DCL is increasing walk-throughs of the buildings in East, which take place during the night on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Hernandez plans on doubling these walk-throughs and added that a Brandeis Police officer is usually stationed at the back entrance to East to prevent Waltham residents from entering the buildings. 

After reports of “Peeping Toms,” DCL sends an email to East residents listing precautions already in place and steps it will take to address the issue. Every email has listed these increased walkthroughs. 

After incidents of voyeurism in the showers at the Gosman Gym in 2012, Brandeis added a card-swipe system so it would have a record of all those entering the building. The front doors remain unlocked and the card reader is on the table immediately in front of the doors. The desk attendants do not always stop entrants who walk past without swiping. 

The perpetrator in these incidents was identified a few weeks later as a male student. “[Two] eyewitness, a student monitor who works for the Athletics department and the complainant assisted in the investigation” and footage from Public Safety’s security cameras also aided in the search, Callahan told The Hoot in 2012.

This year, there have also been multiple instances of a man exposing himself to students on South Street. Potter noted there is always a campus-wide email in these cases. The messages, from Callahan, also provide a description of the perpetrator.

“A lot of people will think that voyeurism is something small and trivial,” said Yeshua, “but in fact it does have great weight on someone who it happened to.”

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