Correction Appended: This article mistakenly referred to Eastern Michigan University spokesman Ward Mullens as spokeswoman.

Wary of a recent string of rapes, Rackham student and Ypsilanti resident Deborah Willis now takes the extra precaution of talking on the phone with her husband while walking to her car after dark at home and at the University.

In the last nine months six sexual assaults have occurred in Ypsilanti, two on the Eastern Michigan University campus. EMU’s Department of Public Safety has responded by tightening security and making efforts to raise community awareness.

The most recent incident occurred on Dec. 12 in a tanning salon on the 200 block of W. Cross Street in Ypsilanti. A woman at the business was sexually assaulted by a man robbing the salon. There have been no arrests in connection with any of the assaults, but police are currently investigating promising leads, said Ypsilanti Deputy Police Chief Matt Hershberger. Investigators are in the process of reviewing videotapes of a bus stop where a police canine tracked the scent of the suspect.

Police believe the incidents may be connected but say it is too early to tell.

“There are similarities between cases, but there are differences also,” Hershberger said. He said Ypsilanti police are requesting DNA analysis from the state of Michigan but added that it will take time for the results to be returned. Because the tests will be conducted in a Michigan state laboratory, other cases may take higher priority.

“We are doing anything and everything we can to stop this,” said EMU spokesman Ward Mullens.

EMU has strengthened its security in recent months in light of the sexual assaults -beefing up its DPS force with six new student officers, increasing lighting on campus, and communicating to the University community the importance of taking safety precautions.

This month EMU is offering a self-defense course. It has also attempted to spread the word about Student Eyes and Ears for University Safety, an escort system that is comparable to the University’s S.A.F.E. walk program.

Ypsilanti is borders Ann Arbor to the west.

University of Michigan DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said that although the majority of sexual assaults on campus are committed by a prior acquaintance, students should take precautions to protect themselves on and around campus. She advised students to stick to well-lit areas, to never walk alone and to be aware of the more than 130 blue light phones placed around campus and in the parking structures. These phones ring directly into the DPS public safety center.

Willis said the rapes drove home the importance of standard safety precautions.

“After the incident I have been much more careful,” Willis said. “I always park under lights and have my keys in my hand.”

Brown suggests that students should program the DPS phone number into their cell phones for emergencies on campus because a call to 911 from a non-campus phone will be answered by the Ann Arbor Police then relayed to DPS – costing valuable time that could be saved by calling DPS directly, Brown said. She also suggested that students utilize the S.A.F.E Walk service, which provides a walking escort for any member of the University community at any time.

The phone number for DPS emergencies is 763-1131 and S.A.F.E. Walk can be reached at 763-9255.

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