A call for better lights in Georgetown after string of sexual assaults

A call for better lights in Georgetown after string of sexual assaults. (ABC7 photo)

Does a working street light actually prevent crime?

In the wake of four groping attacks in Georgetown, including one at knifepoint, many say ‘yes’.

“It's kind of more nerve-wracking especially as a woman walking out in the dark,” said Margaret Gach, a Georgetown University Sophomore.

The most recent attack was at 53rd and N streets, just this past Monday.

Investigators say around 10:40 p.m., a man approached a female from behind and groped her.

Authorities are also investigating a September 5 attack along the 1200 block of Potomac Avenue.

Detectives say on August 23, a man grabbed and assaulted a woman near 37th and T streets.

And on August 3rd, a man grabbed a woman along the 1600 block of 35th street and attempted to assault her at knifepoint.

“We had four sexual assaults in a five-week period, that was shocking,” said ANC Commissioner Bill Starrels. “Multiple streetlights were out in those areas so they were dark, not safe.”

Starrels and community activist Terry Lynch walked around the four crime scenes Thursday night.

The say they found 25 non-working or dimmed streetlights in the Georgetown area.

“Predators who are taking advantage of the situation, which is dark spots,” Lynch said. “We found at each of these locations, there were streetlights out. That puts everyone at risk.

The Georgetown attacks all occurred at night, police say.

Three happened between 10 and 11 p.m. and one of them, around 1 a.m.

“If I saw a street with no streetlights on it, I'd immediately feel a lot more unsafe,” said Grace Laria, a Georgetown sophomore. “I think we need to have lit streets, especially on a campus where it's a beautiful neighborhood and things can happen in any neighborhood.”

Students at Georgetown are especially concerned.

The school has sent out email alerts, warning students to take precautions.

“You need to be in a group, it's a buddy system,” Laria said. “I always feel a lot safer when I’m with another person.”

For some, there are few choices.

Late-night classes and study sessions often mean having to walk after dark.

One side of the street might be perfectly illuminated, the other side, not so much.

“Find their victim and surprise their victim, and that's why we have streetlights, to prevent that from happening,” Starrels said.

Starrels and Lynch sent their findings to the DC Department of Transportation, which says it’s looking into the problem.

In an email to ABC7 News, DDOT spokesperson Terry Owens wrote that ‘service requests that involved bulb replacements are generally resolved in five days, which makes public input so very important.’

Owens says DDOT crews will be fixing at least ten darkened street lights by Monday and Tuesday.

He says as part of a new LED project scheduled for 2017, DDOT will begin installing lights that can be monitored remotely.

Students and residents say they hope these new actions will shed some light on the problem.

“The onus shouldn't be on me to like feel safe around this neighborhood,” Gach said.

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