Colleges scrutinized, investigated for hiding sex assaults on ca - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Colleges scrutinized, investigated for hiding sex assaults on campus

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  • Degree of Deception: Local schools under-reporting sexual assaults

    Degree of Deception: Local schools under-reporting sexual assaults

    Monday, October 26 2015 3:55 PM EDT2015-10-26 19:55:11 GMT
    Thursday, October 29 2015 6:01 PM EDT2015-10-29 22:01:03 GMT
    WBTV asked 15 area colleges and universities for campus crime logs and annual crime reports covering a three-year period. The reports are required to be compiled and made available to the public by a federal law known as the Clery Act.More >>
    WBTV asked 15 area colleges and universities for campus crime logs and annual crime reports covering a three-year period. The reports are required to be compiled and made available to the public by a federal law known as the Clery Act.More >>

(WBTV/RNN) – Colleges and universities across the U.S. may be under-reporting sexual assaults that occur on or adjacent to their campuses.

A federal law called the Clery Act requires colleges and universities to compile an annual report of the number of various crimes that take place on campus and on public property immediately adjacent to campus. The law also requires schools to keep a daily log of all crimes that are reported to campus police or security.

The Clery Act was signed into law in 1990, but those who advocate on behalf of students who have been sexually assaulted on campus say many schools fall short of complying with the law.

Laura Dunn is an attorney and founder of the non-profit organization SurvJustice. Her work has given her firsthand experience with schools violating the law, usually at the expense of those who have reported being sexually assaulted.

Compliance concerns

“I think a lot of campuses are, unfortunately, not in compliance with the Clery Act,” Dunn said.

Dunn singled out the growing trend of colleges - both public and private - establishing their own police forces. Many states allow schools to set up sworn law enforcement agencies with full police powers in addition to regular security teams.

(Attorney Laura Dunn founded SurvJustice, an organization that helps victims of sexual assault on college campuses. Source: WBTV)

“Anytime you have a campus as its own fiefdom controlling even law enforcement, I think you’re setting up a dangerous dynamic to support an institution over the rights of individuals,” Dunn said. Campus police are part of the campus system, she said, and they don't want to make waves.

When students call Dunn for help, she said they are often out of options for receiving assistance on campus.

“When people reach out to us, they’ve been forced to suffer by the system: there’s been a failure by police, by prosecutors, by campus administrators. Sometimes survivors aren’t even getting help when they want counseling or assistance in school.”

A separate federal law, known as Title IX, requires colleges and universities to make adequate accommodations for those who have reported being sexually assaulted.

One thing Dunn and other advocates are particularly weary of is colleges that fail to properly report the numbers of sexual assaults on campus, both because it is a violation of the law and because it provides a less-than-accurate picture of the amount of crime on campus.

Changing the culture on campus

Dunn and other advocates aren’t the only people acknowledging college administrators take steps to mask crime on campus.

Jeff Baker, Chief of Police at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said he is suspicious of a school that reports few or no sexual assaults in its annual Clery report.

“To say zero or to say those small numbers, that could mean that [the schools] don’t have those avenues for students to report to.”

(Jeff Baker, Chief of Police at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, says accurate reporting of sexual assaults will raise awareness among students and faculty about the issue. Source: WBTV)

By law, a school’s annual Clery report must include the number of sexual assaults and certain types of other crimes reported to campus police or security, other off-campus law enforcement agencies, or a third group of people known as campus security authorities. This third group includes resident advisers, student life staff, and certain types of counselors and student health workers.

Baker said being able to report an accurate number of sexual assaults on campus requires creating awareness among students and staff of all the options available for reporting and getting help for sexual assaults - not just law enforcement.

“If you have those options and you still had zero, I would scratch my head,” Baker said.

At UNC-Charlotte, Baker’s philosophy has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of sexual assaults listed on the school’s annual Clery report.

In 2013, the school reported just three sexual assaults. A year later, in 2014, the school listed a combined total of 39 sex offenses.

Baker said the sharp increase in the number of reports is actually a good thing.

“It is a tough thing to say that we’ve shown an increase in any type of crime and that that’s good,” Baker said. “I would tell parents that if there’s a robust report, that that’s a good thing because that’s a university that is offering options to women who are sexually assaulted.”

Baker said increasing the number of sexual assaults reported on campus each year requires changing the culture on campus, both in terms of educating students on what, where and how to report and also in terms of administrators recognizing the benefit that comes with higher numbers.

Federal investigations

There are currently 145 schools under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for mishandling sexual assaults on campus.

The investigations stem from complaints filed under Title IX.

The number of schools under investigation for possible violations of Title IX has more than doubled since the DOE first published a list of schools under investigation in May 2015. The first list had just 55 schools.

“As with all OCR investigations, the primary goal of a Title IX investigation is to ensure that the campus is in compliance with federal law, which demands that students are not denied the ability to participate fully in educational and other opportunities due to sex,” the agency said in a press release announcing the original list of schools under investigation.

The list of schools under investigation reads like a who’s who of high-profile schools across the country: Harvard, The Ohio State University, Dartmouth, University of Tennessee, and the College of William and Mary just to name a few.

A push for reform

The issue of sexual assaults on college campuses has caught the attention of lawmakers in Washington, DC. Multiple bills have been proposed to address the issue.

One bill gaining traction in Congress is the Campus Safety and Accountability Act of 2015.

The legislation is sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers. Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, is among the group pushing to pass the bill. As a father of three daughters, Warner said this issue is personal for him.

“We are trying to make sure that the college can’t sweep these things under the rug, that they need to report the data in a clear and appropriate way,” Warner said. “I think the law is important, but the change in culture that can be driven by college administrations is the most significant thing we can do. If the law forces that, so much the better.”

(Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va, discusses a proposed bill that would create campus reporting requirements for sexual assaults. Source: WBTV)

Provision of the bill supported by Warner and colleagues would do several things, including establishing new campus resources and support services for student survivors, change the on-campus disciplinary process, create new reporting requirements and stiffen the penalty for schools that break the law, among other things.

“When you hear the stories, particularly from victims who have had their lives dramatically altered by these incidences, in many cases the perpetrators having no sanction, you just have to say enough is enough,” Warner said.

Progress being made, more education needed

For Dunn, the crackdown on how to colleges handle sexual assault is personal. Dunn was sexually assaulted in 2004 during her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and has since shared her story countless times.

Ten years ago, she said, it was not common for sexual assault survivors to speak out.

“There’s a lot of pain and suffering associated, not just with it occurring but, of course, with it being public,” Dunn said. “People don’t believe you, they criticize you and there’s a lot of ostracism about who you are and your capabilities because of what’s happened.”

Dunn said the latest generation of students reporting sexual assaults is showing great courage in speaking out.

The vocal demands of justice from those who say they’ve been sexually assaulted on college campuses has started to draw attention to the need for change and reform, Dunn said.

“For some reason we are blind to what’s happening on our campus,” she said. “Campuses need to get over it and say it is a problem here and it’s a problem everywhere and ask 'what are we doing differently?'”

Both Dunn and Warner agree that more education is needed to prevent this problem from continuing into the future.

“I think sexual violence will continue to be a problem until our country invests in meaningful prevention education that starts in middle school and is emphasized throughout high school,” Dunn said. “We can’t wait until college. It’s too late.”

Dunn said she thinks it could take decades before lawmakers, advocates and educators are able to find a formula that properly addresses the issue of sexual assault on college campuses.

Copyright 2015 WBTV via Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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