On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 4, junior Ashley Elliott reported being harassed by a strange man while walking in the vicinity of Seminary and Simmons Streets. The man approached her from behind and initially engaged her in conversation before touching her inappropriately and following her back to Knox campus and into the Gizmo.
“I got scared because I had never seen this guy before,” said Elliott. “I just knew I had to get to people.”
Director of Campus Safety John Schlaf said that the man used intimidating conversation, such as telling the student about guns he had at his house and saying he was no longer welcome inside many of the downtown area buildings. Elliott said he mentioned to her that he was upset about the way he had been treated in the bar and planned on going back home to retrieve a gun.
Schlaf said a Galesburg police officer who was familiar with the man watched the couple, but Elliott did not feel she could ask for help.
“This guy was not [acting] right,” said Elliott. He began to reach for her and tried to kiss her. Elliot said she lied, telling him she had a boyfriend who would not appreciate him touching her. This, however, did not stop his behavior.
Once she returned to campus, she spotted a male classmate and explained her situation. He directed her into the Gizmo and called Campus Safety, who reported to the scene immediately.
“I don’t think that would have have happened on a bigger campus,” said Elliott, fearing that perhaps others would not have been available or helpful when she needed them.
Campus Safety found the man engaging another group of students on the Gizmo patio, at which time they escorted him to the perimeters of campus and asked him not to return.
“The plan was to remove him from the students and get him off campus,” said Schlaf.
Upon returning to the Gizmo, Schlaf talked to Elliott and decided to call the Galesburg Police Department and file a report of aggravated battery against the man. The Police Department and Campus Safety searched for the man on Sunday night but were unable to locate him.
After the incident, Elliott returned to her suite, escorted by one of her Pi Beta Phi sisters, from the sorority she joined just this term.
“I was so shocked that I wanted to call my mom, so I did,” said Elliott. Her mother called the Galesburg Police Department as well and then drove from her home in Chicago to pick Elliott up until the man was found.
“We’re in a relatively small campus, it’s easy to find somebody,” said Elliott. She stayed at home for the next week before returning to campus.
On Monday morning, the man turned himself into the Public Safety building, but not before approaching another female Knox student and attempting to touch her face and grab her arm. After the second incident was known, the man has been charged with two counts of aggravated battery and one count of criminal trespassing, as he had been asked never to return to Knox campus on a previous date.
Schlaf said this particular man has a history of soliciting money from people and grabbing at them.
“I feel better knowing that he’s behind very large bars and guarded 24/7,” said Elliott.
Her family, suite mates, sorority sisters, Dean Bailey, Schlaf and professor of history George Steckley, have supported her since the incident.
“I have a new found respect for the entire [Campus Safety] department,” said Elliott. “They’re really here to take care of us.”
After suffering through the initial shock, Elliott is ready to continue her education at Knox, along with her support system.
“[An experience like this] shatters your perceptions of everything,” said Elliott. “Just one instance can totally wreck your faith in your surroundings.”
Because these students were able to quickly report this inappropriate behavior, the man was found and charged swiftly.
“A credit to both of these young ladies for bringing this information forward in a timely manner,” said Schlaf. He feels that both students reported the incidents quickly and fairly, thus improving the safety of the area around campus.
Tips for staying safe:
-If you go out at night, travel in packs, instead of by yourself.
-Be familiar with the area you are travelling in.
-If someone approaches you, guide them in a direction you are comfortable with and retreat to a place you know there will be many people.
-Do not cut off your senses, which means do not wear ear phones while traveling by yourself, as it is easier for you to be targeted.
-Once you have found a space with many people, break away from the stranger and find a friend.