The Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department apprehended and arrested a suspect for third-degree sexual assault on the 3300 block of Prospect Street on Saturday at around 1 a.m.
The arrest came after a series of four sexual assaults in the Georgetown area reported between Aug. 3 and Sept. 12. The Aug. 3 assault targeted a Georgetown University Medical Center student and occurred on the 1600 block of 35th Street NW, with the perpetrator carrying a knife. An assault targeting an undergraduate student occurred Aug. 24 as the student was entering her residence in Village A. Another student was assaulted Sept. 6 on Potomac and N Streets NW. A fourth student was sexually assaulted on 35th and N Streets NW.
Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber said although the apprehended suspect matches some of the descriptions given by victims of these assaults, it is still unknown whether he was definitely involved with all the assaults.
According to a statement by MPD, 34-year-old Sergio Waldo Velazquez-Cardozo from Falls Church, Va., was detained after Second District police officers observed him closely following and groping a woman around 1 a.m. Saturday. Gruber sent a notice to all students that afternoon.
“At approximately 1:03 a.m., members of the Second District were oheightened patrol in the area, when they observed a female walking on the sidewalk. They immediately observed the suspect following closely behind her,” the statement reads. “Within seconds, the suspect ran up behind the victim and groped her. The victim ran off, as did the suspect. Officers were able to stop the suspect and he was subsequently placed under arrest.”
The Georgetown community has seen increased MPD and GUPD patrols after being notified of the four assaults in the past two months involving students, which are currently being investigated by MPD’s Criminal Investigations Division Sexual Assault Unit.
“[Velazquez-Cardozo] matches the description of a couple of the assaults,” Gruber said. “We think that this person is responsible for several of them, but we’ll have to wait and see to see if the crimes continue.”
Although there has been an uptick in reports of assaults involving students, Gruber said he does not believe there is an increase in danger to students or members of the Georgetown community because the four recent assaults are believed to be connected.
“I’m not particularly concerned about the uptick in general,” Gruber said. “I think sometimes you get a peak in these types of crimes and sometimes you have nothing for a long period of time; there’s no real pattern to it. You have one perpetrator doing this and committing multiple assaults, so you see a big spike. It’s not like we have a rash of these things from multiple people, but one person can cause the statistics to rise.”
With regards to on- and off-campus security, Gruber said there has been an increase in patrol officers by both GUPD and MPD following the series of incidents.
“We have a lot of tools already in place, but when we do see an uptick in crimes like this, we take more of our human resources and put them in the areas of concern,” Gruber said. “We’re still going to keep our heightened posture in the neighborhood and the Second District Metropolitan Police Department is going to keep their heightened posture as well.”
According to GUPD crime log archives, there have been six sexual assaults involving students so far in 2016, including the four recent attacks. There were three reported assaults in 2015 and four in 2014.
Health Education Services and Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Services Associate Director Jen Luettel Schweer said she believes the increase in reported assaults may reflect a more comfortable environment for survivors who want to report an attack.
“When reports go up, we think that it is a positive thing, because it means that more people are aware of the systems and resources that are in place to respond to the needs of survivors,” Schweer said.
Georgetown University Student Association Safety and Sexual Assault Team Policy Chair Maddy Moore (SFS ’17) said an increased number of students has voiced concerns about sexual assault.
“I have noticed many students asking questions and raising concerns about the recent campus alerts, demonstrating that this is an issue the community cares about and wants to address,” Moore wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Moore added that GUSA is planning to facilitate a discussion with GUPD leadership ito better inform GUSA.
“Over the next month, GUSA is hoping to host a GUPD Roundtable with the Department’s leadership to learn more about the current climate and what changes have been made,” Moore wrote.
Apart from increasing the number of patrol officers, Gruber also encouraged students to use tools Georgetown offers such as Safe Rides, the LiveSafe app and the police escort service to ensure their own safety in a campuswide email. Additionally, Gruber advised students to take personal precautions when travelling between campus and the Georgetown neighborhood.
“Use common sense. If you’re going to be walking from campus and into the neighborhoods or vice-versa, try to do it with a friend or a roommate. Walking in groups is much safer than walking by yourself,” Gruber said. “Also, walk on established routes. Don’t cut through alleys or areas that aren’t well-traveled. Stick to the main streets. There are usually cars driving by and just much more visibility on those main streets.”
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