Sex crime incidents increase in grove

Jan Flatley-Feldman/Staff

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On sunny afternoons, the Eucalyptus Grove on the west side of the Valley Life Sciences Building offers a peaceful escape from the crowded bustle of central campus, but after dark, this dimly-lit and secluded area can be the site of robberies and sex crimes.

Two separate incidents of sexual battery and one incident of sexual assault took place last week in the area around West Gate, adding up to a total of four in the area within the last five weeks. There have been five cases this semester, as opposed to two during all of last fall.

At around 11 p.m on April 3, a female student was allegedly grabbed inappropriately while walking along Frank Schlessinger Way. The victim described her attacker as a male in his early 20s, about 5 foot 11 inches in height and weighing about 150 pounds.

Two more incidents took place within hours of each other Thursday night at around 10:50 p.m. and early the following morning at 12:30 a.m. The victim in the first incident was not hurt when she was inappropriately grabbed as she walked by the east side of VLSB, but the victim in the later incident was robbed while passing through Haviland Grove before she was allegedly forced by the suspect to perform a sexual act.

Both suspects were described as a male in his early to late 20s, between 5 foot 6 inches and 5 foot 7 inches with a thin build, blond or light brown hair and an unshaven face.

"There are definite similarities between the two cases," said UCPD Lt. Alex Yao. "UCPD is not saying that this was the same suspect in both, but at the same time we're not ruling anything out. Finding these suspects is an extremely high priority right now."

Yao added that UCPD will be increasing its police presence in areas where the incidents occurred. He also named BearWALK and the Bear Transit Night Safety Shuttles as free alternatives to walking alone at night.

UC Berkeley doctoral candidate Peiting Li walks through the Eucalyptus Grove at least twice each weekday to and from class. Though she said she has never experienced any problems and was not aware of the recent crimes, she admitted that she feels reluctant to walk through the grove at night.

"I have a friend who told me that he leaves his wallet in a locker on campus when he has to walk through at night - just in case he's mugged," Li said. "Maybe he's paranoid."

UC Berkeley senior Johanna Oh said other areas, such as Sproul Plaza, appear to be safer at night than forested and secluded areas like Faculty Glade and the Eucalyptus Grove.

According to the UCPD's Crime Alerts Index, 2010 saw a significant decrease in incidents of sexual battery and assault from 2009. However, suspects involved in cases of sexual battery and sexual assault are seldom apprehended, according to the index.

Yao said the department has been working with campus landscapers to make improvements "to provide an enhanced level of safety through landscape design," including looking at lighting and foliage in areas on campus from a prevention perspective.

In the meantime, Yao said students should avoid poorly lit areas if they find themselves walking alone at night, adding that staying aware of surroundings - such as not being distracted by talking on the phone or listening to music - is also important.

UCPD is urging anyone who may have witnessed or have any information regarding the incidents to call the department's Criminal Investigations Bureau at (510) 642-0472.


Contact Adelyn at [email protected]

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