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Ohio State’s Thompson Library deemed ‘safe’ despite reported sexual imposition, indecent exposure

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Despite recent reports of sexual imposition and indecent exposure at William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, a student involved in one incident said she’s going to continue visiting the library, and officials said the building remains a safe place on campus.

A recent University Police report stated a 56-year-old homeless man, described as “an habitual offender,” had been arrested for inappropriately touching female OSU students in Thompson Library Jan. 11.

Later, two female students reported a man for exposing himself and masturbating while watching them in the library during an unrelated incident Jan. 13.

Thompson Library, which is open to the general public with about 12,000 to 13,000 daily visitors, was designed with security in mind, Thompson Library security manager Brent Lewis said.

“It’s extremely open — from the glass, from having the open atriums, essentially five stories tall — there’s a lot of openness,” Lewis said. “Overall, it’s a very safe place to come study.”

Despite the library’s safety-minded architecture, the man who had been allegedly masturbating was able to make his way around library security to escape without questioning.

One of the women involved in the incident, who is a first-year in nursing and who asked to remain anonymous because she doesn’t want the man to know her identity, was studying on the fourth floor of Thompson Library with a friend at about 2:45 p.m. when she noticed an elderly man gesturing to her from behind the glass wall.

“I happened to look up and there was this older man waving at me — like an attention-getting wave. He started lifting his shirt, then he started touching himself over top his jeans,” she said.

She then began panning the room for her friend, whom she couldn’t find, she said.

“When I looked back, he fully had his penis out and was masturbating in the stacks. So I was really shocked. That’s not something you expect to see in your school’s library,” the woman said.

And she said she wasn’t the only person to notice the man.

“I happened to look over at a table behind me and I saw a girl who had her jaw dropped and I knew she had to have seen it, too,” she said.

After making eye contact with the other witness, the first woman immediately headed for her table, she said.

“When I got up, he took off sprinting and that’s the last I saw of him,” she said.

By the time the two women made it down to the first floor to notify library security, the man was gone, she said.

“I feel like he had a good idea of the setup of library because where he was, on the fourth floor, there’s a support beam that covers a certain portion of the glass wall so you couldn’t see him unless you were at the angle I was at,” she said.

The man was described as being about 60 years old with a “scruffy beard” but “clean cut,” according to the University Police report.

“He looked like your average grandpa, so aside from what he was doing, he looked normal,” the woman said.

The two witnesses were told to alert the police if they see the man again. The woman said she has since returned to Thompson Library.

“I figure he won’t be showing his face for at least a little bit, I’m hoping,” she said.

Lewis, who oversees the library security staff for 13 Ohio State libraries, including at Thompson Library and the 18th Avenue Library, said students should always report suspicious behavior to library security personnel, if not to the police.

“We have people (library security personnel) who are always roaming through out the facility – they (students) can call us, they can flag us down. They can also call the police themselves,” Lewis said.

Besides one security officer at the 18th Avenue Library who is also an employee of the Department of Public Safety, the security officers at the libraries on campus report to Lewis and are separate from University Police officers.

In addition to security personnel, Lewis said Thompson Library has a multi-prong approach to maximizing students’ safety.

“We utilize cameras, we utilize access control, we utilize a policies and procedures code of conduct. We also utilize partnerships we have on campus with the Department of Public Safety and the (University) Police department,” Lewis said.

When asked about changes to library security since the two reported incidences, Lewis said he was unable to comment because of the confidentially of security measures.

Erin Walker, a first-year in pre-health sciences, said she doesn’t have any security hesitations when visiting Thompson Library and generally thinks of it as a safe place.

“I know there is a security desk at the front of the library, but I’ve never really considered the library that much of a (security) threat,” Walker said.

Even though Walker said the library is a safe place, she does feel it poses more of a threat to her security compared to other places on campus.

“The library is an open place. You don’t have to be a student or a faculty member to be (there), where in other buildings, sometimes you do,” Walker said.

Lewis said, though, there are no added security risks because of the library’s openness to the general public.

“There’s no studies, there’s no data that indicates there being an increased risk at having (public) people,” Lewis said.

Tamara Butler, a graduate student in education, said she has no security hesitations about Thompson Library either and has never thought of it as an unsafe place.

“I’m usually (there) late but I’m also usually here with two friends,” she said.

To stay safe in campus spaces that are open to the public like Thompson Library, Butler said she travels in groups and never stays at places late when she’s by herself.

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