Peeping Toms Threaten Safety on Campus

An investigative look into sexual harassment on campus and what measures are being taken to ensure students feel safe

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Photo reenactment by Leni Santos and Martin Garcia. Photo Credit: Shannon Carter/SAC.Media.

A sigh passes your lips shamelessly as the pressure on your bladder eases away. It’s been a long day, and in a few minutes you’ll be heading home, but for now the quiet privacy of the bathroom stall is as good a place as any to check your phone. However, as you scroll through your feed, some movement catches your attention. You look up from your screen only to find another one staring back at you with a hand grasping it shakily under the stall door. You scream and tug up your pants as the phone slips away, feeling your heart race as fear, shock and anger rip through your veins. You grab your things and open up the door, racing out into the hallway, but it’s too late: the Peeping Tom is gone.

For many students on campus, guns aren’t what warrant fear; it’s incidents like this one, combined with dark hallways, a predator with a camera phone and a safety system that doesn’t always seem to keep students safe.

Jenny Chu, a business major, said, “Walking to my car [from class] is kind of scary sometimes. When there’s people, I feel safe, but when I’m by myself, I kind of feel sketched out. I noticed at 10 p.m. [some] lights…kind of turn off – the ones in the parking lot in the back, which is where I park.”

According to the Mt. SAC daily crime log, there were two reported rapes that occurred on campus in 2019, one in February and one in September. There were also three instances of sexual battery and two cases of battery that involved unwanted advances in 2018-2019. Additionally, there were three instances of invasion of privacy in the fall semester that centered around the use of a cell phone to film female students unknowingly while walking upstairs or using bathroom stalls.

Another incident occurred on Dec. 20, 2019, after the fall semester had ended. According to the crime log, a suspect was caught taking pictures or filming a female student taking a shower at the women’s locker room. This marks the fourth incident of invasion of privacy in the 2019-2020 academic year.

One individual that understands the emotional impact and the long-term effects of being violated on campus grounds is Nataly Guzman, 30, a former Mt. SAC student. The incident occurred Oct. 1, 2018, at approximately 8:45 p.m. in which Guzman was on a break during her Monday night film class in the now-demolished Building 17.

In Guzman’s case, she went to the bathroom and noticed that the door was propped open with a trash can. At first, she didn’t think anything of it, as she assumed the bathroom was being cleaned. Looking back, Guzman recognizes this as a potential red flag. As she sat down in the stall with her undergarments around her ankles, she recalls seeing a hand holding a cellphone reaching underneath the stall pointed directly at her. The suspect stood behind the wall of the stall, so Guzman couldn’t see the perpetrator standing right in front of her. The only thing in her line of sight was a hand holding a cellphone in a black case that had an anime sticker attached to it.

“Who the fuck is that?” she screamed.

According to Guzman, the suspect swiftly withdrew their hand from underneath the stall and ran out of the bathroom. Quick to her feet, Guzman’s adrenaline rushed, and she proceeded to run after the suspect on the dark campus.

“In retrospect, there were a lot of things that could have gone wrong in chasing him,” Guzman said. “I do get that. But it just felt like the thing to do. I don’t know what I was going to do if I was going to tackle him or what. I think I instinctively wanted to grab the phone.”

As she chased the suspect around Building 17 and down Miracle Mile, she yelled out, “Help me! He just took pictures of me in the bathroom!”

Guzman remembers a woman who heard her cry and began running around the building to help find the assailant. At that moment, Guzman was able to catch a quick glimpse of her attacker, whom she describes as a male figure with a smaller athletic frame and medium-length hair, dressed in dark-colored pants. After chasing him to Parking Lot G, the next thing she saw was a white sports car with a revving engine speeding out of the lot.

Guzman, out of breath and with tears down her face, went to the nearest blue call box next to Lot G. Moments later, Mt. SAC Public Safety Officer Anthony Kelly showed to take Guzman’s statement. After Guzman re-enacted the details of the incident, Kelly asked Guzman if she would like to file a police report, to which she replied yes.

At the moment, she said there wasn’t a sense of urgency coming from Officer Kelly, and she felt a lack of overall concern. After Kelly contacted the Walnut Sheriff’s Department, he informed Guzman that the station had a backlog of calls, and it would “take a while” before a police officer would arrive. She says that Kelly’s casual behavior suggested that it would not be worth her time to wait for the police to arrive and implied that she could always go to the station on her own to avoid any delay.

At one point, Kelly recommended that she use the “buddy system” while walking around campus at night to avoid future instances. This infuriated Guzman, because she didn’t believe she should have needed a buddy to use the bathroom and expected Mt. SAC to protect its students from events like this.

“I could tell that he wanted me to go. It was very much like an answer of, it happened, so what can you do now?” Guzman said.

Guzman refused to let the incident go and told the officer that she wanted to fill out the incident report. Kelly took Guzman back to her class to gather her things and inform her professor of the incident. Two hours later, the Walnut Sheriff’s Department arrived.

“I sat there long enough that I watched my classmates leave,” Guzman said.

Walnut Deputy Ian Branch arrived at the campus and interviewed Guzman separately and filed a police report. At the time of filing, Branch asked Kelly if there was any security footage on campus that could be retrieved. Kelly replied, “No.”

Unfortunately, without security footage or a clear witness, the case remains unsolved.

SAC.Media later spoke to Guzman and reported the story.

Shortly after the incident, campus human resources reached out to Guzman to meet with her to discuss the incident.

“I wish they could have been a little more aware of the sensitive cases that come into their office because there was a lot of ‘Hey, how’s it going?’ and ‘Having a good day?’” Guzman mimics in a joyful voice. “I was, like, no, obviously, it’s been a shitty week.”

During the meeting, Guzman recalled being informed of generalized campus policies, and it was suggested that she utilize campus safety in the future. The meeting did not resolve Guzman’s issues, nor resolve her trauma. She felt as though it was a meeting for Mt. SAC to check a box and pacify the outstanding concerns. Guzman wanted to know how the school would fix and prevent incidents such as these from happening again.

After the meeting, she was never contacted by Mt. SAC again.

“I felt angry, grossed out and violated. There’s some stranger out there that has pictures of me to this day. Like of me with my leggings and underwear down because I was peeing,” Guzman said. “That’s a very disturbing thing to think about that somebody out there has those pictures or video.”

Guzman, who suffers from generalized anxiety disorder, struggled to get through the rest of the semester. She felt scared after the incident and suffered anxiety attacks, especially when attending her film class. HR suggested that Guzman switch her current schedule to hybrid courses to allow her to take some time away from the campus. Guzman was unable to do so and ended up dropping one class because she fell behind.

For the remaining two semesters that Guzman attended Mt. SAC, she couldn’t justify taking another night class because of the trauma she experienced.

“I came to realize that [students’] safety isn’t a high priority,” Guzman said. “There are so many other preventative things that could have been done … that [did] not taken place before and apparently [are] not taking place now.”

She said that she hopes no one will have to go through a similar experience. Guzman encourages students to be aware of their surroundings, take note of small details and stay vocal within the community to support the necessary changes needed to ensure safety. Looking back, she thinks that if she had removed the trash can from the propped door, it might have prevented the culprit.

“I would like Mt. SAC to install some damn security cameras, because I found out that night that there are none,” Guzman said. “That terrifies me, [because of] the potential of other disasters … that can easily happen [on campus], and we would have no way of deterring that or figuring out who did it.” Guzman said that the lack of preventative measures feels like a disaster waiting to happen.

This incident, labeled an “invasion of privacy” by public safety, was not an occurrence unique to Guzman. After numerous incidents of this nature along with other crimes taking place on campus, Mt. SAC has sought ways to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place, as well as to help students feel safe while on campus.

President Bill Scroggins listed various improvements Mt. SAC has been trying to make regarding campus safety. Along with increasing the visibility of police and campus safety officers, there has been an increase in training for staff, which includes understanding the community being served, Title IX training and Violence Against Women Act VOWA training. Along with this, there have been improvements made to the campus itself.

One major reason students might feel uneasy on campus is that improperly lit areas at night lead them to feel more susceptible to crime. Proper lighting of campus is crucial to student safety, especially when a significant amount of crimes has occurred in the night. Of 173 incidents reported in the Mt. SAC crime log between Jan. 10, 2018 and Dec. 4, 2019, 20 occurred after 6 p.m. This amounts to around 11% of crime.

In response to multiple complaints regarding the safety of students and faculty walking in poorly lit areas at night, a portion of the school’s Measure GO bond has been used to increase lighting all over campus. Scroggins added that he would also like to increase the number of blue emergency phones on campus, and that the college has been implementing changes to bathrooms where there’s access to a single stall, and once inside, the door can be locked and no one else can enter. Along with talking to female staff members on ways the college could further improve, Scroggins stated, “We’re constantly open for suggestions to improve overall campus safety, but particularly [for] those who are the most vulnerable targets on campus.”

Mt. SAC Facilities further touched on campus lighting at night, giving updates on the progress they have made and what they are still working on in terms of bringing adequate light to all parts of campus.

Assistant Director of Facilities Planning and Management Bill Asher said that facilities is “working diligently to get those [lights] back on” throughout campus, including within parking lots. This process has been a collaboration between in-house workers and contractors. Mt. SAC employs three electricians, one being dedicated to outside lighting.

“90% of [the outside lighting electrician’s] time is spent on [ensuring lights are working],” Asher stated.

According to Asher, there are around 4,000 exterior light fixtures outside, which makes it an “unrealistic expectation” for every single light to be on at all times. Instead, Facilities focuses attention on areas that lack adequate lighting at night.

“It’s a big concern when a complete area is out,” Asher said.

One of these areas is Building 20, which has been experiencing a shortage of light recently. Facilities has worked to bring proper light to this portion of campus, and Asher stated that Building 20 is “70 to 80% better now than its [darkest].”

Another way Facilities seeks to improve student safety at night is by investing in longer-lasting lamps that require less maintenance.

Some students have also vocalized support for more transparency with public safety disclosing campus crime.

Business major Jennifer Fuentes said, “They should like inform [us] more, because they tell us what happened, but we never find out the full story or who the [perpetrator is] or how can we prevent it.”

While regulations like the Clery Act requires schools to keep thorough crime records and to show them openly, many students are not aware of these resources. One way Mt. SAC could increase awareness of these incidents and what to do in case of one is by encouraging students to keep an eye on the daily crime log or read the annual security report.

Of five female students surveyed, only one stated that they felt secure while walking around campus. For students who feel unsafe doing activities as mundane as using the restroom, measures being taken to protect the security of students and faculty alike, and altogether make Mt. SAC a safer place, are a blessing.

Editor-in-chief Natalie Lu contributed to this report.