Disclaimer: This article mentions sexual assault. Resources can be found at the bottom.
INDIANAPOLIS — Police at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis are warning people to be aware of their surroundings after receiving several reports of alleged sexual assaults on or near a popular walking trail that runs through campus.
The Indiana University Police Department at IUPUI shared a crime notice earlier this week after receiving three reports, and since it was issued, several more reports have been received. They’re now investigating reports of assaults believed to have occurred between June 18 and June 22.
“As a result of that alert, we’ve had two more calls come in. Now we’re dealing with five that we know of. We don’t know how many are out there,” said Detective Lieutenant Kimberly Minor.
No injuries were reported to the victims, but police remind, any allegation of sexual assault is serious. They’re hoping to prevent any further incidents and stop the situation from escalating, by identifying and locating the suspect.
“Today it’s a touching on the behind, who knows what it’s going to be the next day if he’s continuing to get away with it,” said Minor.
The victims in at least four of the cases are women, police said. In the fifth case, and the first police were made aware of, the victim reported the crime anonymously.
All five victims similarly described the suspect as a male with long, dark hair covering his ears, riding a BMX-style bike either dark gray or black in color, and wearing dark clothing. The approximate age of the suspect wasn’t immediately clear, police said.
“As they were walking down the street, someone would come by and smack them on the behind and keep going,” said Minor.
According to police, the victims reported these incidents occurred at various times of the day, and as a result, they’ve stepped up patrols in the area with marked and plain-clothed officers.
“We’ve got reports from 7 a.m. to 9:30 at night, so we’re trying to cover all of those areas,” Minor said.
In three separate cases reported to police, the suspect is accused of assaulting victims around 3 in the afternoon. In the other two cases, the victims said they were assaulted around 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
One of the incidents reportedly happened in the area of Porto Alegre Street, south of W. Michigan Street, according to police. Another two reportedly happened nearby in the area of W. New York and Limestone Streets on the White River Trail.
The other two incidents were reported to have happened on the trail, with one closer to White River State Park, behind the National Institute for Fitness and Sports (NIFS), and another behind the IUPUI ball field.
Because the trail passes through downtown, including on IUPUI’s campus, police said the message to be aware of your surroundings and take steps to protect yourself, should be heard by everyone, not only IUPUI students.
Police said not all of the victims are students, which should drive that message home even further.
“Where they’re located, we have runners, we’ve got people riding bikes, we’ve got people walking,” said Minor.
We encountered dozens of people out walking and running, including Karen Shirey and Tonya Sweany, who both were on walks during their lunch break from their workplaces.
While both were shocked to hear what happened, they said they’ve always felt safe when out during the day, and will continue to be cautious while out on their walks.
“It’s unfortunate. I’m grateful it wasn’t more serious than it was, but anything like that, is always serious,” said Shirey.
Sweany said, “I’ve been walking this same stretch for the past three years and I’ve never had anyone confront me. Usually I walk with someone else.”
Both women said they tend to walk with at least one person, even during the daytime. Police encourage others to follow that lead and said, even if it is daytime, you can’t let your guard down.
“I do watch my surroundings just to make sure nobody’s walking up behind me or anything,” said Sweany.
“If you see something, say something. Call people or even watch out for others walking. If you see them alone, just take notice of them,” said Shirey.
Police remind that it takes the entire community to create and maintain a safe and respectful environment for everyone and have shared advice for people to take steps to protect themselves.
“We talk about being aware of your surroundings, but what that looks like is not being on your phone when you’re walking, keeping your eyes up, making eye contact with people, checking behind you every so often to see who’s coming up behind you,” said Minor.
She encourages people to make sure they can hear anyone approaching. If you are wearing ear buds or headphones of any type, police recommend having an ear free so you can hear.
“Also, trust your instinct. If something doesn’t feel right, trust that and try and get out of the situation. While you’re looking out for yourself, look out for people who are also around you,” said Minor.
IUPUI police said there has not been a suspect identified or arrest made. They’re asking anyone with information to call IUPD at 317-274-7911.
You can report an incident of sexual misconduct at Indiana University by visiting this page.
Alternatively, you can call Crime Stoppers of Central Indiana at 317-262-TIPS (8477), where you will remain anonymous.
Officials also want to remind people that sexual assault can happen to anyone. There are resources out there, including the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Hotline, to help you.
Resources for sexual assault survivors and loved ones
- National Sexual Assault Hotline Phone: 800-656-4673(HOPE)
- National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- National Organization for Victim Assistance
- National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women
- National Center for Victims of Crime
- National Human Trafficking Resource Center
- Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network