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Serial Groper Preys on Stanford Women

About three dozen students have been victimized since spring by a man riding a bike on campus at night. No suspects identified.

November 16, 2003|Ramin Setoodeh | Special to The Times

A male bicyclist, zooming along Stanford University's pathways and courtyards, has groped about three dozen female students on the prestigious campus since spring. Police have been unable to identify the so-called serial groper, who seems to strike only at night.

In September, freshman Lauren Young said the bicyclist grabbed her buttocks with one hand, steered with the other and never stopped pedaling. "I was like, 'What's going on?' " Young said. "I didn't have time to react."

The incidents have made some women afraid to stroll the campus at night. Others, however, including Young, prefer to concentrate on what they see as the absurd nature of the incidents. "I didn't think it was a big deal," she said. There have been no reported injuries.

Police believe one man on a blue mountain bicycle is responsible. He reportedly looks over his shoulder after speeding away, and victims describe him as a Latino about 18 to 25 years old. The last reported incident was Oct. 30

Nicole Wright, a columnist for the campus newspaper, said the groper is "creating an atmosphere of fear. It's not so much the severity of his act, as a girl's fear that [at] any moment she can be groped."

Other female students now rely on a university-funded service that provides golf cart transportation across campus at night. "People are less likely to want to walk from the library to their dorm," said Amy Keith, a student manager and driver.

The free service, which has been offered for several years, has not seen its number of clients grow significantly. But, Keith said, "people are mentioning [the groper] in phone calls" as they request night transportation.

Although the groper has been at large since May, no attacks were reported for 52 days during summer. That led some to speculate that he may be a student. Others, such as freshman Dani Maier, who was groped in September, have not ruled out the possibility of a copycat.

"The description that me and my friend gave was very different than the one other girls had given," Maier said. "Either it was the serial groper, and we didn't get a good look at him -- or people had heard about it and thought it would be a funny joke to repeat."

The campus, adjacent to the affluent city of Palo Alto, rarely sees street crime, and student tour guides mention bike thefts as the most common violation.

Students criticize campus police for not catching the groper. "He's making a mockery of them," said student Elizabeth Madjlessi, adding that she isn't afraid of the groper. "They know when he strikes, where he strikes, how he strikes, but he has somehow evaded capture."

Laura Wilson, Stanford's chief of campus police, said her officers are following leads in the case, but added that some of the criticism is "a bit naive."

"Our streets and pathways are actually quite convoluted," she said. "Try setting up a perimeter on campus.... There are any number of holes in the perimeter where a suspect could escape undetected."

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