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Woman Assaulted in Student Center Bathroom, Police Search for Suspect

By Daniel C. Stevenson and Dan McGuire
Staff Reporters

Crime struck the heart of the MIT campus Monday evening when a female student was mugged in the Student Center and robbed of more than $300 worth of money and jewelry.

Shang-Lin Chuang '98 was assaulted just after 9 p.m. by a man hiding in the women's bathroom in the Student Center basement who threatened her with a hidden weapon. The robber fled the scene when another woman entered the bathroom and Chuang yelled for help.

The Campus Police is continuing to pursue leads, but no suspects have been identified or arrested.

Police have good leads

Immediately after the incident the Campus Police searched the area around the Student Center but could not find the robber.

Chuang described her attacker as an African American male of medium build, 5"5' tall, with a round face and dark skin. He was wearing a green sweatshirt, blue jeans, and black shoes.

"We have some good leads,"said Chief of Campus Police Anne P. Glavin. A man recently arrested by the CPs matches the description, she said.

Chuang said that the police contacted her for more information as they continued their investigation. She was asked to look at a set of photos of suspects on Wednesday evening but said that she did not see the robber among the pictures. The Campus Police are circulating a composite picture, based on Chuang's recollection of the robber.

Very unusual' crime

Chief of Campus Police Anne P. Glavin called the robbery "very unusual."

"As a whole, the Student Center is not a dangerous place,"Glavin said. However, like any other building on campus, it is close to the cities of Cambridge and Boston and is affected by the same problems that any urban area faces, she said.

However, "in general, our serious crime statistics are not high," Glavin said. The most recent armed robbery was in September. Generally, MIT has one or two such robberies a year (see sidebar, p. 22).

"It's really unusual for someone to go into one of our buildings," especially the Student Center, Glavin said. The Student Center is a significant security concern because it is very open to the public for the various businesses, Glavin said.

The restroom where the attack took place is fairly centrally located. It is at the foot of the stairs in to the basement and is next to the video arcade.

"We don't want people to feel they cannot use the restrooms,"Glavin said.

Some women's restrooms are locked at night on a regular basis, Glavin said.

I was scared, terrified'

At 9 p.m. Monday evening, Chuang entered the women's restroom in the Student Center basement. Chuang said that she didn't notice anything unusual at first. "It looked like it always looked," she said.

While using the restroom Chuang said that she "saw some shadows in the next stall. I thought it was strange because the person was making no noise and the person had come in before me."

After Chuang flushed, she said that she was confronted by the assailant. "I didn't have much time to think. He said something like Give me your money.' I screamed for about two to three seconds. While I was screaming, he placed his hand over my mouth to try to stifle me, but he wasn't completely successful."

"I was scared, terrified. I didn't know what to do," she said. "Eventually I stopped struggling because I realized it wasn't doing much. I remembered what people always said: to cooperate and give him everything."

"After that, he turned me around so that my back was to the door and pushed something kind of small and sharp against my back," she said. The robber took roughly $18 in cash, an inexpensive watch, a gold bracelet valued at $300, and a $75 pendant, Chuang said.

Just then, Cindy W. Tom '97 entered the restroom. The room "was really quiet," Tom said. She saw two pairs of feet in one of the stalls and thought that "it might be a couple making out."

The robber "locked the stall door and said something like Don't talk or I'll kill you,'" Chuang said.

"I made a quick decision based on the fact that he wasn't big, he wasn't serious, and that any weapon he had wasn't going to do serious damage to me," she said. "I decided to yell again. I yelled Help! I'm being robbed, call the police now!'

Tom quickly left the bathroom and called the Campus Police on a nearby phone. The robber fed the bathroom, running down the hallway next to the dry cleaners, Tom said.

"I contemplated chasing after him, but decided not to," Chuang said.

"I am freaked out, not so much by what happened, but by the fact that I go to those bathrooms a lot, the fact that a lot of other girls do too, and the fact that it was 9 p.m. and in the Student Center."

"You always think it's safe,"Tom said. "Everybody goes to the Student Center late at night."

"We're all really innocent until something like this happens," Tom said.

Police mount response

The Campus Police response was "substantial,"Glavin said. At least seven or eight officers responded to the initial call for help, including officers in cruisers, on motorcycles, and on foot patrol.

The CPs mounted a "fairly intensive" search but failed to find the suspect, Glavin said. Given the time of day and the proximity of the Student Center to Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street, the suspect likely fled the scene, she said.

The CPs remain vigilant and are watching the Student Center area in particular, since sometimes a suspect will return to the same place, Glavin said.

The Campus Police notified the Cambridge Police of the incident and has given them the description of the suspect.

Awareness important

"This does serve as a reminder that you have to be very careful where you are" and what time of day it is, Glavin said.

"People should be careful late at night" and should consider going to the bathroom and other secluded locations in groups, she said.

"You hate to alter your lifestyle that way, but sometimes that's the wise thing to do, at least for the time being," she said.

Glavin said that Chuang's initial response to the situation was correct. In an armed robbery situation, "any time that someone is demanding your property, turn it over," Glavin said.

Although it is difficult to tell if the person has a weapon if they don't show it, their mindset or specific wants may be more dangerous than any possible weapon, she said.

In addition, "yelling is not necessarily a bad thing," Glavin said, although one must be cautious. "Judge the situation. If nobody is around nobody is going to hear you," she said.

Crime prevention resources

The Campus Police coordinate a number of crime prevention programs, said Sgt. Cheryl deJong Vossmer, crime prevention coordinator for the Campus Police.

The CPs offer a free escort service to anybody working late on campus who feels unsafe walking home, Vossmer said.

It is also important for people to be aware of the resources available to them, Vossmer said. MIT makes emergency phones, the Campus Police phone number (100 for emergencies), Safe Ride, and the escort service to alleviate immediate concerns.

For longer-term safety, the Campus Police also offer training and education like the Rape Aggression Defense course, Vossmer said.

The RAD course is designed to help women learn to be self-dependent and teaches them a range of skills and options, Vossmer said.

Glavin advised against using defensive measures without proper training. Mace and capsicum (pepper spray) are illegal in Massachusetts.

Instead, students should carry a whistle or even a flashlight, and if someone hears a whistle, they should immediately call the police, Vossmer said.