HLS Students: Potential Prey of Predators


Walking around Cambridge late at night-whether alone or with friends-can be an anxiety-producing experience. Property theft is the most common crime on the Harvard University campus, but students tend to worry much more about their bodily safety. Even the inside of a dormitory can seem threatening in the wee ours, especially if strangers are lurking in the hallways.

“Walking on the law school campus is fine, but I don’t feel safe off-campus,” 2L Damaris Diaz said.

HUPD and nearby municipal police forces update university administration regularly about crimes committed within the vicinity of the Harvard campus. The law school sends bulletins to students when an assault and battery or act of sexual violence occurs nearby. And students can access daily crime logs at the HUPD website.

Within campus confines, emergency “blue light” phones offer students the ability to contact HUPD directly from hundreds of locations. HUPD press officer Stephen Catalano said that, at last count, there were close to 500 emergency phones on campus.

The phones need not be used for emergencies only, however. Catalano said that the majority of calls from these phones are made to student rooms and that HUPD receives reports of “very few true emergencies.” Incoming calls with no one on the other end are treated as 911 calls, and help is dispatched. The newer phones have a regular phone plus a red button that can be pressed to immediately summon the police.

Catalano could not say precisely how many “true emergencies” HUPD faces in a year. “We’re talking a handful at best over the course of the year,” he said. “Most of [the complaints] will be ‘I’m walking and I see someone acting in a suspicious manner.'”

A perusal of recent daily crime logs indicates that calls regarding suspect persons are quite common, occurring nearly on a daily basis across the university campus. Sometimes officers question the individual and may subsequently ask him or her to leave, but many times the suspect flees before police arrive.

Last year, the law school installed ID card readers in all women’s bathrooms in the Gropius complex after female residents complained of a peeper. Catalano said that the department conducted an investigation and identified a suspect, but for classified reasons, criminal charges never materialized. He declined further comment, but the perpetrator was apparently an HLS student.

Outside campus, safety-conscious students have access to shuttle buses every night until 3 a.m. The buses will only bring individuals back to campus, not away from it, and the buses run within a limited, well-defined area. Kim Olvey, a 2L, said that the shuttle should have looser rules about where it will stop. “The bus only stops at certain locations, so you have to walk, and in some cases, the stop is in the middle of nowhere,” Olvey said. “For example, the bus stops at Prospect and Mass, but it will not go any farther. I suppose it is a slippery slope problem, but the shuttle could be a bit less rigid.”

The HUPD website offers “pearls of wisdom” to Harvard students. One might argue that some of the tips on the HUPD website are ridiculously commonsensical: “Never invite a person whom you have met on the street, in a bar, or in another public place back to your room.” Other suggestions, such as not wearing headphones when walking alone down the street, are less obvious and frequently flouted. A gap exists between HUPD recommendations and the everyday practices of HLS students.

HUPD also recommends that students carry whistles-often referred to by students as “rape whistles”-at all times. Whistles are available at 1033 Massachusetts Avenue on the sixth floor, and also at all HUPD substations.

But how effective are whistles, presuming that students are willing to carry whistles and have immediate access to them at all times? And will a whistle help a student maintain bodily integrity on the mean streets of Cambridge?

“No.” answered 2L Ashley Aull, “Unless the whistle also shoots pepper spray.”

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