Amelia Mansfield was horrified when the start of her life at Central Michigan University was met with rumors about the infamous “Rape Trail.”
Stretching from the Campus Habitat Apartments to the Towers residence halls, the trail has been rumored to be the scene of sexual assaults each year, despite no reports of incidents being filed in that area.
“It’s kind of a scary thing, being a girl on a college campus and hearing that kind of rumor,” Mansfield said. “I wish people would be more sensitive.”
The Royal Oak freshman said she has friends who live nearby the trail, and although she hasn’t heard of any assaults, the location itself sets off alarms.
“It is a creepy place,” she said. “Everyone walks down there. My friends live in the apartments and they haven’t heard anything about rapes.”
A popular Twitter feed, @Renamethetrail, was started earlier this semester by CMU students, suggesting the name be changed to be more sensitive to victims of sexual assault.
While local law enforcement admits personal awareness might be more important in the heavily obscured trail, no assaults have been reported.
“We have never had a documented incident in that area,” said Mount Pleasant Police Public Information Officer Jeff Thompson. “We’ve never even heard of it being called the ‘Rape Trail.’ We’ve not even found a wallet or any property. There’s just nothing there.”
Thompson said the rumor could have been inspired by low visibility in the trail, especially at night. He said regardless of the reality, students walking there need to stay aware.
“I would have to imagine (the name) stemmed from an urban legend,” Thompson said. “If there is any fear it that area, it is unfounded. It is a dark, unlit area. Don’t put yourself in that situation. Travel in groups and maintain your awareness of what is around you.”
The land the trail sits on is owned by Mount Pleasant Public Schools and is nearby Vowles Elementary School.
Assistant Superintendent to MPPS Jennifer Verleger said she is unaware of any incidents, but that MPPS will collaborate with law enforcement to make possible improvements to the area.
“What we would do is work with police to identify improvements that could be made,” Verleger said. “Our interest is to make students safe. Whether our students, or from CMU, we want to make everyone safe. We maybe need to look into better lighting and fencing.”
Verleger suggested late-night walkers might even consider avoiding the trail in the dark of night.
“Try to be aware, walk with someone,” she said. “As responsible adults, we need to keep each other safe. Maybe late at night, that’s not the best place to walk.”
Rochester junior Leanne Mayes agrees. She said she never walks the trail alone, regardless of any official reports. She has walked the trail with friends to get to class quickly, but never goes alone.
“I wouldn’t walk there at night,” Mayes said. “It’s definitely not a place to be by myself, myth or not.”
Mayes stressed the importance of being sensitive when students engage in gossip related to sexual assaults. She hopes the trail will be renamed to take the crimes more seriously.
“(Rape) is something that is serious,” Mayes said. “They shouldn’t make jokes. It’s a sensitive subject.”