Sex complaints continue in bathrooms, despite UMPD efforts

For years, police have heard complaints of sexual behavior on West Bank.

University of Minnesota police have responded to reports of sexual behavior in west bank bathrooms, specifically in Anderson Hall and Wilson Library.

Juliet Farmer

University of Minnesota police have responded to reports of sexual behavior in west bank bathrooms, specifically in Anderson Hall and Wilson Library.

by Nicholas Studenski

University of Minnesota police have responded to reports of sexual behavior in West Bank bathrooms for years, despite their efforts to combat the issue.

Anderson Hall and Wilson Library are two hotspots and have collectively had at least a dozen complaints since 2012. But while the problem isn’t new to police, many students said they were unaware of it.

University Deputy Police Chief Chuck Miner said he’s seen reports of inappropriate conduct in the bathrooms since he started at UMPD 18 years ago.

“It’s been going on for quite some time,” he said.

The most recent case involved a man masturbating on an Anderson Hall staircase while a student sat nearby, according to the police report.

The victim, a University student, said she used to feel comfortable on campus. She asked to have her name withheld because of the nature of the incident.

“Now, I don’t feel comfortable walking around by myself — even in the middle of the day because it happened in the middle of the day,” she said.

The student said she wished University police would send out crime alerts for sexual behavior on campus, like they do for violent crimes.

Miner said police have seen all kinds of inappropriate behavior in the bathrooms.

Sometimes police report sexual conduct between two people in stalls, or even in open areas in bathrooms.

Students have reported being peeped at while using West Bank bathrooms. In one case, a man used his cellphone to record video of a man next to him using a urinal.

Most commonly, Miner said, people are looking for someone to engage in sexual behavior, a practice known as “cruising.”

Cruising is defined as seeking to engage in anonymous sexual activity in a public place, like a bathroom, according to the website cruisingforsex.com.

According to the website, which allows users to list and review locations for cruising, the bathroom in the basement of Anderson Hall is a popular spot.

“This place was awesome,” one comment said.

“I love cruising here,” said another.

Some commenters warn other cruisers to be careful of the police presence.

Over the summer, a UMPD officer was setting up a camera outside of an Anderson Hall bathroom when he suspected a man of sexual behavior and issued him a trespass warning.

When police see disruptive or harassing behavior that doesn’t cross the threshold of committing a crime, Miner said, a common response is to issue a trespass warning.

A trespass warning typically bans the suspect from the area for a year. If they do come back during that time, Miner said, they can be arrested.

From a police standpoint, Miner said, inappropriate behavior in the bathrooms can be difficult to control.

Offenders typically aren’t affiliated with the University, he said, and the frequency of cases “ebbs and flows.”

When police see an increased number of complaints from students and staff, they put together a “coordinated detail” to monitor the bathrooms more closely.

Plainclothes officers may pretend they’re using a restroom stall or monitor buildings for suspicious behavior, like someone frequently entering and exiting a bathroom.

As it gets colder, the police often see an uptick in complaints of such behavior, Miner said. Cruising often happens outside in the summer but inside in the winter.

“It tends to be a cyclical issue,” he said.

Busy areas with large restrooms, like the Mall of America and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, are also common spots for this type of behavior, Miner said.

A little-known issue

Some University students were surprised to hear that such behavior has occurred.

Theater arts junior Bree Schmidt said she hadn’t heard about it and has never really felt unsafe on campus, especially on West Bank.

“It seems like a more closely knit community,” she said.

Biochemistry and microbiology freshman Benji Schuneman, who lives on West Bank, said the news of such incidents was “brand new” to him.

“It’s really creepy, I think,” he said. “It really shakes my faith in how safe the campus is.”

Biology junior Stephen Gray said he spends a lot of time in Wilson Library and hasn’t seen any inappropriate behavior.

Despite hearing about the incidents, he said, he still feels safe going to the library.

“I generally feel really safe on campus,” Gray said. “I’m surprised to hear that’s going on.”

But the University student who experienced the most recent incident at Anderson Hall said more should be done to combat the problem.

“This happened inside of a University building, and there are tons of people around,” she said. “This is something that shouldn’t just be brushed off.”