Public masturbation a persistent problem at Tisch Library
Published: Monday, February 18, 2008
Updated: Wednesday, January 18, 2012 17:01
At least four female students say they have been the victims of a peculiar form of sexual harassment at Tisch Library since last spring.
Each student reports that a dark-skinned, disheveled man with dark hair sat down by her and masturbated while looking at her.
In two incidents this month, victims reported the conduct to library staff, who then alerted the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD). But it was not until the latest incident, on Feb. 10, that the police confronted an alleged offender. And when they did, they let him go free with a warning after taking down his personal information and deciding that they did not have conclusive evidence to show he committed a sexual offense.
TUPD Sergeant Joseph Tilton said that the police who reported to the library on Feb. 10 were informed that the suspect had been making "motions or gestures in the area" of his private parts, and that the student who reported the incident strongly suspected he had been masturbating.
For lack of definitive evidence, the police issued the suspect a trespasser warning and did not arrest him, Tilton said. "Unless we see or have clear and convincing evidence, we are not going to take that person into custody; we are going to give them a trespasser warning," Tilton said.
Marie Deuerlein, a reference librarian at the library, phoned TUPD on Feb. 10 after junior Jessica Herrmann reported the incident to her.
"The Tufts police talked to the man and determined that he did not know that his behavior was offensive," Deuerlein said. "They thought that he might have a medical condition. They asked him to leave the building and find another place because there had been a complaint."
Herrmann also suspected that the man was not mentally healthy. "I suspect that there's something not right mentally," she said.
Herrmann said she was studying at a table in the periodical section of the library's main floor when the suspect sat down diagonally across from her and began reading a magazine. All three other victims interviewed by the Daily reported noticing the same behavior.
The man's hand was resting on his crotch outside of his pants, Herrmann said. "I didn't want to believe what was going on," she said, noting that the man looked up at her "very frequently."
A friend of Herrmann, a sophomore, eventually sat down at the table. The suspect immediately got up and sat by another female student at a different table, where he continued his conduct.
The sophomore suggested that Herrmann alert the librarian while he remained at the table.
While Herrmann was discussing her incident with the police officer who responded to the call, the suspect walked past them and headed toward the basement. The officer then confronted him.
On Monday of the previous week, another female student, who requested anonymity because of the crime's sexual nature, reported a similar incident to library staff.
"I was doing work [in the basement] and noticed out of the corner of my eye that a man pulled out a chair across from me and sat down. I didn't think much of it until I started to hear a rustling noise," the student said in an e-mail. "It was really fast and strange, so I looked up quickly and saw his hand down his pants."
She considered getting up and walking away, but was unsure if she was overreacting or imagining the incident.
The man got up and returned the book he had in his lap to a bookshelf nearby. The student said she believes he had randomly selected the book before sitting down.
Two of her friends came by soon after, and she explained what had happened. The friends suggested she tell the librarian. The library staff phoned the police, who searched the building but did not find the suspect.
This type of occurrence is not new to Tisch. The Daily has learned that at least two similar incidents took place last year.
A freshman who has requested anonymity was studying at a table in the library's basement last April when a stranger sat down diagonally across from her. She said he had a book with him.
"I started hearing this scratching noise every three seconds or so - it sounded like a pencil or something - and I looked up and he was scratching himself down there," she said.
She said that as soon as she stood up and began packing up her things, the suspect left. He put the book he was holding back on a shelf near her.
"I went back to the place where he had put the book back, and it was just a random list of American professors," she said. "It was just an obscure research encyclopedia, so it was obvious he wasn't reading it."
She did not report the incident to officials because she did not think the suspect would return. "I didn't know he was going to do it over and over again," she said.
Sophomore Alisha Bouzaher described a similar experience she had around the same time. She was sitting by herself at a table on the main floor of the library when a stranger sat down diagonally across from her. She said that the man kept looking up at her and she heard a rustling, scratching noise.