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'They have to start small,' rethinking safety at ASU following sexual assault

As ASU police continue searching for a rape suspect, safety experts say there's more the Tempe-based university could do to prevent violence on campus.

TEMPE, Ariz. — The search continues for a man who sexually assaulted a woman near an Arizona State University parking garage in Tempe on Sunday.

ASU police said it happened between the Hyatt House near Desert Financial Arena and the Packard parking structure.

Suspect not yet caught

Police said the man grabbed a woman from behind, held something like a knife to her throat and took her near the Packard Parking Garage and raped her.

ASU police said the suspect put a gun-like object into her back before he ran away.

Police said the woman did not know the suspect.

Freshman Anna Mitchell parks in the garage often.

“I’m constantly walking right here,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell got the alert ASU police sent out to the student body Sunday morning regarding the assault.

“I was reading through it and I was like, ‘Oh my God!’,” Mitchell said.

Going beyond resources

ASU police included resources and steps to take to make it less likely someone will be a victim of sexual violence.

In the alert, information about safety courses, blue light emergency towers, and safety escort services was mentioned.

“I don’t know what else I can do to like make sure something bad doesn’t happen,” Mitchell added. “Like I really don’t know what to do.”

“We need to think above and beyond than this level of compliance,” said Alison Tombros Korman, senior director at Culture of Respect at NASPA.

Culture of Respect is an initiative working to end sexual violence on school campuses.

Tombros Korman said most sexual violence on college campuses happens indoors with people students know.

ASU’s own data shows that too. In 2020, out of 17 rapes reported on campus, 14 of them were in student housing.

That trend is consistent back to at least 2018.

“Those types of infrastructure elements aren’t really going to make a difference,” Tombros Korman said.

Turning to prevention

Tombros Korman said the focus on college campuses needs to turn to the prevention of sexual violence.

“While making those important, but small, efforts of reducing your likelihood of experiencing violence are important,” Tombros Korman said. “The bigger question is, ‘What are colleges and universities doing to prevent this in the first place?”

She said colleges and universities need to focus on helping survivors of sexual violence as well.

“That’s the first thing they need to be doing is use trauma-informed practices and responses to make sure that survivors are going to get the support they need,” Tombros Korman said.

Tombros Korman added change for dealing with sexual violence is going to take time and small steps.

“They have to start small or we’re never going to make any inroads and really getting to the bottom of ending campus sexual violence,” Tombros Korman said.

RELATED: ASU found in 'serious violation' of the Clery Act, US Dept of Education strongly recommends reevaluate safety policies and procedures

RELATED: Sexual assault reported at ASU Tempe campus

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