Universities not reporting assaults

 

It's a pretty safe bet most of us would not be able to cite from memory, chapter and verse, the particulars of the federal Clery Act of 1990.

What should disturb us, however, is that school administrators at the University of Southern California and Occidental College are also apparently clueless when it comes to Clery. As it turns out, they may have been violating this federal law for years.

In the middle of a federal investigation of how these two universities handled campus sexual assaults, USC and Occidental have disclosed they are guilty of under-reporting the number of cases alleged on their grounds.

At USC, officials admitted to not reporting 13 accounts of sexual assaults to federal officials in 2010 and 2011. The total number of sexual assault cases for those years now stands at 39.

Over at Occidental, administrators acknowledged they had failed to disclose 24 reports in 2010 and 2011 - bringing the total in that period to 36.

These new revelations could lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties for each school and put their future eligibility for federal financial aid programs at risk.

The Clery Act is named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University freshman who was raped and murdered in her campus residence hall in 1986. The backlash against unreported crimes on numerous campuses across the country led to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

The legislation was signed into law on Nov. 8, 1990, by then-president George H.W. Bush. The law requires all colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs must keep and disclose information about crime on and near their respective campuses.

Compliance is monitored by the federal Department of Education, which has authority to impose civil penalties up to $35,000 per violation and can suspend institutions from participating in federal student financial aid programs.

Within the last two years, women at USC, Occidental and other campuses nationwide have been filing complaints with the Department of Education alleging their school's administrators have been discouraging them from reporting sexual assaults or tried to downplay the severity of the attacks.

Both universities tried to excuse their conduct saying these assaults were not reported in an effort to protect students' confidentiality. USC officials contend that by reporting the accurate statistics, they might trigger investigations by the Los Angeles Police Department - which might, in turn, pressure student counselors to identify "anonymous" victims.

"The intent was to give ... safe haven to the students," Laura LaCorte, a USC compliance officer told reporters at a Los Angeles newspaper.

That is pretzel-shaped logic: Don't tell police about a possible crime because they don't want victims to be further traumatized by a follow-up investigation.

Occidental has its own strategy: They are now designating a smaller geographic area in which sexual assaults will be reported. In other words, they are shrinking the map. The number of sexual assaults may not decrease - they will now be designated as having taken place "off-campus."

"The college is making a concerted effort to report lower numbers," Caroline Heldman, dean of the politics department and an Occidental faculty advocate for victims, said. "It will make them look better but will put students in more harm."

We send our children and our grandchildren off to universities every semester with the expectation they will receive a top-flight education and be safe while living in campus environs. If something as horrific as a sexual assault takes place, we demand the victims are taken care of and the guilty are punished.

Many universities are using "sworn police officers" as campus security. They have arrest powers just like the LAPD. These are not "rent-a-cops" but are trained and should be working closely with student counselors and other authorities to prevent assaults.

All their work goes out the window if the schools decide they would rather hide a problem to save face. If Occidental and USC act to cover up multiple sexual assaults on campus, they are no better than Penn State covering for disgraced football coach Jerry Sandusky, who preyed upon small children while he was on campus.

 

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