Hesitant though we might be to call it a trend, it's nevertheless disturbing that there have been three sexual assaults committed by assailants unknown to the victims in a matter of nine months — two in the span of two weeks — within the Westminster city limits.

The first, and most violent, act occurred in May, when a registered sex offender allegedly grabbed and began to rape a teenage girl near Pennsylvania Avenue. In January, a woman walking her dog on a trail near the Wakefield Valley property was grabbed by an unknown male assailant, and on Feb. 10, a female student at McDaniel College was sexually assaulted by an unknown man on the campus. Police quickly made an arrest in the May incident, but the two most recent incidents remain under investigation.

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Those numbers defy convention. More than 70 percent of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by people known to the victim, according to RAINN, the nation's largest anti-sexual-violence organization. Attacks by strangers, let alone multiple assaults, simply aren't supposed to happen in small communities like Westminster.

Recent sexual assaults spur concerns, possible action in Westminster

The two sexual assaults in Westminster are still under investigation.

Consider that along with continued drug problems countywide that tend to be more visible in the densely populated county seat, and there is a perception that Westminster is becoming unsafe.

Westminster police and McDaniel's campus safety department have both increased patrols after the most recent incidents, but police can't be everywhere. That's why we think forming a neighborhood task force or watch group is a great idea for the city.

Crime will inevitably occur where opportunity exists. Having citizen eyes and ears looking out — and making that known — can limit these opportunities and thus limit criminal activity.

Councilman Tony Chiavacci suggested the idea at the city's Feb. 13 meeting, and the city plans to come up with a loose framework after researching how other city governments and police forces have developed similar groups.

Attendance at that same council meeting, at which five women spoke about the recent assaults and several others attended in support, suggests that the community is engaged and wants to be involved, an absolute necessity for neighborhood watch programs to be successful. Without a willingness to step up and get involved, no problems can be solved.

If you're interested in being part of the Westminster group, we encourage you to reach out to Chiavacci or others on the council and let them know. It will take a concentrated effort by a dedicated group of people to achieve results.



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