Orange Coast College officials blanketed the campus with thousands of flyers Monday, cautioning staff and students to be on their guard in the wake of a report that a woman was raped at knifepoint in a campus restroom.
The news has cast a chill across the Costa Mesa campus, where students heard the news Monday as they registered for fall-term classes that start next week. Some vowed they would take new precautions to protect themselves.
"You can't live your life in fear," said Pamela Hendriksen, 19. "But I'll definitely be more aware, more conscious."
Costa Mesa police said Monday that a woman had reported being assaulted shortly after 6 a.m. Friday in a restroom near the Robert B. Moore Theatre.
The woman, a 33-year-old Monarch Beach resident, told police she had gone to the campus to check her grades and was walking up to the restroom sink when a man put a knife to her throat, sexually assaulted her and ordered her to sit for 30 minutes.
Police learned of the incident Saturday evening from officials at Martin Luther Hospital in Anaheim and interviewed the woman there. Investigators described the assailant only as a man in his 30s, 6 feet tall and weighing about 200 pounds.
Campus officials said they learned the news Monday and immediately issued a special "assault bulletin" to alert people at the 23,000-student school, the largest of the three colleges in the Coast Community College District.
The bulletin advises staff and students to use a buddy system or the campus escort service rather than walking alone, and to "be alert--be aware of your surroundings." It is being posted on sandwich boards on campus pathways, thrust in mailboxes and placed on car windshields in parking lots.
Orange Coast College was troubled by a string of security problems in the early 1990s, including a March, 1991, incident in which a man forced a woman student to drive her car from a campus lot to a market, where he raped her. Three sexual assaults were reported in the next year, and the school stepped up its security staff and increased patrols. College President David A. Grant said the college now offers all-night security patrols in parking lots and a 24-hour escort service. About 40 emergency phones have been installed in the past two to three years, he said.
The college had not had a campus sexual assault for three years, college officials said. "Campus crime has been down 20% since last year, so all of this comes as something of a surprise to us," Grant said. "The place has an enormously good record in terms of safety and security for students."
But he added that the campus remains part of the community around it.
"We don't have walls, we don't have fences, we don't have gates," Grant said. "The campus is an enormously safe place, but it's not an island."
The student-run weekly, Coast Report, learned about the rape report Monday and plans extensive coverage about what happened and campus security issues, said sophomore Emily Stewart, 30, of Garden Grove, a member of the editorial board.
"We're all quite shocked," Stewart said.
Other students too were jolted by the news.
"It sort of makes my heart pound and my stomach sick," said Lisa Freeman, 23, after reading about the assault on a sidewalk sandwich board.
"I'm going to be all paranoid. Definitely, I won't take a night class now," said first-year student Lisa Erwin, 24, of Huntington Beach.