SALEM – Police are looking for a serial groper who has grabbed 14 women in the Salem area.
The string of attacks, in which the suspect grabs women in a “sexual manner,” started in late October and occurred along busy streets and in public areas, according to officer Heather Day with the Salem Crime Prevention Unit.
On Thursday, police released surveillance video of one such attack (see above). The woman shown in the video told KGW that the surprise attack stunned her.
“It took me a couple minutes to realize what happened," said Emma Vlossak. "After I got back in my car and then it sunk in, it was surreal.”
Police worry that the attacks could get worse.
“We’re concerned. This person is very brazen," said Salem Police Lt. Dave Okada. "He’s doing it along busy streets as well as residential streets and in parking lots. If somebody’s brazen enough to do that, we worry he’ll escalate this behavior.”
Brandon Kowalik said another woman was attacked near the store where he works. “You would think in a public spot they would shy away from that. But they don’t,” he said.
"The subject's behavior demonstrates that he is looking for the right circumstances, such as surprising his victim from behind while they are otherwise distracted, and then he typically flees on foot,” Day said.
One of the attacks happened in a grocery store parking lot. Other shoppers there said it's prompted them to be more cautious.
"I am definitely more aware for sure," said shopper Miranda Burks. "I'm just more cautious when I'm parking. I stay more in the light and less in the dark areas where it's likely to happen."
Other women said they’re not worried about the suspect. “I feel safe because I look around, I watch around, you know. And I’ve taken self defense classes,” said Becky Kutcher as she loaded her car in the parking lot.
Police said the suspect in all of the attacks is a younger man wearing a dark hoodie.
Officer Day offered several tips to help women decrease their chances of being assaulted:
-- When out and about, keep your head up and make eye contact with passersby. Walking with confidence can be a powerful deterrent to a would-be criminal.
-- Know the area where you walk and have an escape route planned, such as to where you will run if you are attacked.
-- Make a commotion and yell for help. Never be embarrassed to cause a ruckus to get the attention of others for assistance.
-- You have a right to protect yourself from an attack. Don't be afraid to defend yourself.
-- Trust your instincts. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Leave the situation and call for help.
-- Be a good witness. Use all of your senses to gather information about the attacker. The more details you can provide to the police, the more likely it is we can apprehend the suspect.
Police also urged any victim to call 911 immediately so police have the best chance of catching the suspect.