College crime transparency required under federal law
by Carol Thompson
A Rolling stone rape story that has raised serious questions about the magazine’s journalistic ethics as well as writer Sabrina Eldery’s credibility did contain some information that may not ring true. Eldery alleged that the University of Virginia did not readily release statistics on sexual assaults as she was researching a story about “Jackie,” a UVA student who claimed she was gang raped at a fraternity house. But those statistics, however, are publically available under federal law.
“… when RS asked UVA for its statistics, the press office repeatedly referred us to the UVA police crime logs,” Eldery wrote. “Eventually, UVA furnished Rolling Stone with some of its most recent tally: In the last academic year, 38 students went to Eramo about a sexual assault, up from about 20 students three years ago. However, of those 38, only nine resulted in “complaints”; the other 29 students evaporated. Of those nine complaints, four resulted in Sexual Misconduct Board hearings. UVA wasn’t willing to disclose their outcomes, citing privacy. Like most colleges, sexual-assault proceedings at UVA unfold in total secrecy. Asked why UVA doesn’t publish all its data, President Sullivan explains that it might not be in keeping with “best practices” and thus may inadvertently discourage reporting. Jackie got a different explanation when she’d eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, “Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.”
While Eldery portrays UVA as a school shrouded in secrecy, Arizona State University is anything but.
ASU is well known for its Greek life. It’s also well known as a partying college and underage drinking and drug problems have plagued the school’s reputation for years. The school has been in the news for the greater part of this year following the death of Naomi McClendon. The 18-year-old student had been drinking with friends at a fraternity party in Tempe. When friends took McClendon to a nearby apartment to rest, she was said to have been slurring her words and unstable on her feet. Left alone, McClendon later made her way to the balcony, lost her balance and plunged 10 stories to her death.
According to the Tempe police, the off-campus party was sponsored by Alpha Epsilon Pi, a fraternity which the university had previously banned for various infractions, something that can be easily verified.
ASU is extremely transparent in disclosing infractions by fraternity and sorority programs. On its website the university lists all judicial incidents as far back as 2007.
Current judicial investigations include Alpha Sigma Phi for violations of the Student Code of Conduct related to alcohol and off-campus conduct; Delta Tau Delta for violations related to hazing and alcohol; and Theta Chi for conduct related to alcohol.
The university also discloses the chapters with loss of recognition status along with the reason and a statement. The website also notes those under investigation and the alleged infractions.
Arrests and investigations by the ASU campus police are also transparent. They offer a crime map detailing the date, location, and alleged crime.
While seemingly transparent, ASU, along with colleges and universities across the country, are doing so in compliance with the federal statute. The Clery Act requires higher education institutions to give timely warnings of crimes that represent a threat to the safety of students or employees and to make public their campus security policies. The Clery Act requires crime data to be collected, reported, and disseminated to the campus community as well as to the U.S. Department of Education and to anyone who makes a request.
The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to:
Publish an Annual Security Report (ASR) by October 1, documenting three calendar years of select campus crime statistics including security policies and procedures and information on the basic rights guaranteed victims of sexual assault. The law requires schools make the report available to all current students and employees, and prospective students and employees must be notified of its existence and given a copy upon request. Schools may comply with this requirement via the internet if required recipients are notified and provided exact information regarding the on-line location of the report. Paper copies of the ASR should be available upon request. All crime statistics must be provided to the U.S. Department of Education.
To have a public crime log. Institutions with a police or security department are required to maintain a public crime log documenting the “nature, date, time, and general location of each crime” and its disposition, if known. Incidents must be entered into the log within two business days. The log should be accessible to the public during normal business hours; remain open for 60 days and, subsequently, made available within two business days upon request.
Disclose crime statistics for incidents that occur on campus, in unobstructed public areas immediately adjacent to or running through the campus and at certain non-campus facilities including Greek housing and remote classrooms. The statistics must be gathered from campus police or security, local law enforcement and other school officials who have “significant responsibility for student and campus activities.” The Clery Act requires reporting of crimes in seven major categories, some with significant sub-categories and conditions.
Issue timely warnings about Clery Act crimes which pose a serious or ongoing threat to students and employees. Institutions must provide timely warnings in a manner likely to reach all members of the campus community. This mandate has been part of the Clery Act since its inception in 1990. Timely warnings are limited to those crimes an institution is required to report and include in its ASR. There are differences between what constitutes a timely warning and an emergency notification; however, both systems are in place to safeguard students and campus employees.
Devise an emergency response, notification and testing policy. Institutions are required to inform the campus community about a “significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on the campus.”
Compile and report fire data to the federal government and publish an annual fire safety report. Similar to the ASR and the current crime log, institutions with on-campus housing must report fires that occur in on-campus housing, generate both an annual fire report and maintain a fire log that is accessible to the public.
Enact policies and procedures to handle reports of missing students. This requirement is intended to minimize delays and confusion during the initial stages of a missing student investigation. Institutions must designate one or more positions or organizations to which reports of a student living in on-campus housing can be filed if it’s believed that student has been missing for 24 hours.
It is not immediately known whether Erdely requested the Clery Report from UVA. As of publication, Rolling Stone had not responded to an email asking whether Erdely had requested the report from the university.
As Jackie’s gang rape story unravels, serious doubts have been raised as to the validity of her claims. It also placed the credibility of both the popular magazine and Erdely under the microscope. It appears that Erdely interviewed peripheral sources, yet the central sources claim no one from the magazine attempted to contact them.
The Washington Post and ABC News have both brought to light other discrepancies by interviewing those who were identified in the story by pseudonym.
Image: Flickr/Michael Ruiz