Students and staff at Napa Valley College are taking safety more seriously after a female student reported that she had been sexually assaulted in a bathroom Monday. This was the first sexual assault reported at the school in over 30 years, according to Napa Police Lt. Debbie Peecook.
Students at the college got a mass email Wednesday afternoon about the incident, which was reported to school authorities earlier that day. In interviews on the Napa campus Thursday, several students said the school could benefit from more safety features and security personnel, but agreed that they feel the campus is still a safe place overall.
“I’m a little worried about being alone, but life has to move on,” said philosophy student Amanda Chevalier of Napa.
Chevalier said she plans to use a “buddy system” when taking bathroom trips in the future, and might start carrying a heavy water bottle that could be used as a weapon.
“Everybody makes fun of us for going to the bathroom in packs already,” Chevalier added.
“Honestly, I probably should feel more unsafe,” said Alanah Velasco, a general education student from Fairfield. “I definitely am concerned for other girls; I would advise them to carry pepper spray.”
Joe Olivar, who is also from Fairfield and is studying to become a psychiatric technician, said that he would be willing to act as a security escort for friends if they feel unsafe walking around campus alone. He also said the campus needs to put more safety measures in place.
“Maybe more security should be added,” Olivar said. “I feel like they should have more people, even if it’s volunteers.”
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The school began an immediate safety review after the report, college spokeswoman Lissa Gibbs said. Officials are considering adding more safety escorts and security cameras. They will also continue to offer classes in self-defense and pepper spray use to students, and will refer victims of sexual assault to counseling and other resources.
“It is an exceedingly rare incident, and nevertheless we are taking it very seriously,” Gibbs said. “The safety and security of our students and staff is our No. 1 priority. Women shouldn’t have to feel like they are on guard all the time.”
Besides sending out email alerts to students, the college has posted fliers in restrooms that describe the incident and offer safety tips. “It is not rude to maintain a safe distance between yourself and others,” the flier notes.
Students who feel uncomfortable walking alone are encouraged to arrange a safety escort by calling College Police at 256-7777. That is also the number for reporting someone loitering around a restroom.
The Napa Police Department is investigating the incident, and plans to meet with the victim and a sketch artist on Friday. Peecook said it could be a difficult investigation because of the lack of witnesses and security camera footage, but they are looking for a woman who was possibly in the bathroom right before the alleged assault took place.
The suspect is believed to be a white male between 5-foot-6 and 6 feet tall, with short wavy brown hair and light-colored or blue eyes. He was wearing jeans and carrying a black hooded sweatshirt at the time of the alleged attack.
The investigation is ongoing.