UAlbany is 'trying to develop a culture of disclosure' for sex crimes

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“Minerva in the Garden,” by the late Edward Cowley, portrays the Roman goddess — a strong woman with a spear and helmet — of wisdom, which has been a symbol for the University at Albany since it was a state normal school. It is in display in the university’s library, where students stream by it every day. The University at Albany, with a population of roughly 17,300 students, reported 9 sex crimes in 2013. A report from the White House Council states 20 percent of women are victims of sexual assault in college.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Campus-wide sexual assault policies were adopted at the state’s University at Albany, and all other state universities, on Tuesday. The uniform sexual assault policy is based on recommendations outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and seeks to improve awareness and prevention of sex crimes.

Regulations handed down from the federal and state governments are changing the way sexual assaults are handled on college campuses. The goal is to strengthen the rights of victims and improve crime reporting and transparency.

The state’s University at Albany has roughly 17,300 enrolled students. There were four sex crimes reported in 2012 and nine sex crimes reported in 2013.

The campus is located partly in the town of Guilderland and partly in the city of Albany, between Western Avenue and Washington Avenue Extension.

The most recent sex crime reported on the campus, according to Aran Mull, the deputy chief of police for the University Police Department, was on Oct. 14, when a victim was pushed to the ground and struck in the head, losing consciousness before being sexually assaulted.

The incident took place on a wooded path between Norwood Street and University Drive.

Mull said the investigation was ongoing and he could not provide any further details on the specific case.

The State University of New York adopted a uniform sexual assault prevention and response policy on Tuesday, based on framework outlined by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The policy, combined with changes made to the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, aims to bring awareness to the prevalence of sexual assaults on college campuses across the country.

A report issued in January by the White House Council on Women and Girls — “Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action” — stated 20 percent of women are sexually assaulted while in college.

According to another report, the National Crime Victimization Survey, only 12 percent of rapes annually result in an arrest.

“We have a very comprehensive and coordinated response,” Mull said of sex crimes reported to the department.

He said the university already had many of the practices outlined by the state’s uniform sexual assault policy and the reformed Clery Act in place.

“We’re ahead, rather than behind,” said Mull. “We certainly meet the Clery regulations and go beyond them.”

The Clery Act requires educational institutions that participate in federal financial aid programs to compile statistics on the number of incidents of dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking; clarify the limited circumstances in which an institution can remove reports of crimes; revise the definition of rape to reflect the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s updated definition and categories of rape, sodomy, and sexual assault with an object; and revise the categories of bias for hate crime reporting to add gender identity, ethnicity, and national origin to separate categories.

It also requires institutions to provide new students and employees with prevention and awareness programs; provide annual security reports; define the terms “awareness programs,” “bystander intervention,” “ongoing prevention and awareness campaigns,” “primary prevention programs,” and “risk reduction”; describe each type of disciplinary proceeding used by the institution, including timelines, the decision-making process, how to file a disciplinary complaint, and how the institution determines which type of proceeding to use based on the circumstances of the allegation; list all possible sanctions that may be imposed; describe the range of protective measures offered; and provide prompt, fair, and impartial disciplinary proceedings.

The State University of New York’s uniform policy establishes a definition of consent — “Clear, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement between participants to engage in a specific sexual activity.” It states that consent must be active, not passive.

“Silence or lack of resistance cannot be interpreted as consent,” the policy says.

Further, it says, “Seeking and having consent accepted is the responsibility of the person initiating each specific sexual act.”

It also provides amnesty from drug and alcohol violations to students who are reporting a sexual assault or other sexual violence; provides statewide training in victim sensitivity and prevention for campus administrators and police; establishes a confidentiality reporting protocol; and encourages campus climate assessments to gauge the prevalence of sexual assault on campuses and test students’ attitudes and awareness.

“We already offer victims many options, whether or not they want to go through the criminal justice system,” said Mull, though he noted that, as a police officer, he would prefer all victims did prosecute.

He said the university provides medical services, counseling, a student judicial system, and has an advocacy center focused entirely on support for victims of sexual assault.

The university also sends out daily incident reports and keeps a crime log on its website.

One of the biggest changes to result from the Clery Act, Mull said, is that sexual assault is being broken out from the hierarchy of crimes.

He explained that, in the past, if someone committed multiple crimes, only the worst offense would be reported — for example, if someone stole a car, raped someone, and committed homicide, the homicide would be the crime reported.

“Now, a sex offense will always be reported, regardless of other crimes that are committed in conjunction with it,” he said.

“We are trying to develop a culture of disclosure,” said Mull. “We can’t address the underlying issue unless we have a better picture of the full scope of the problem.”

The deputy chief said the presence of sexual assault on college campuses is not new.

“It’s something we have been focused on at least for the two decades that I’ve worked here,” he said.

He also said it isn’t a college problem, but a societal one.

“We really can’t say that the problem on college campuses is worse or better than it is for women of the same age group in the general community,” said Mull.

“We can’t forget about those women in the general community,” he continued. “Focusing only on college campuses leaves a gap in protection for all of the women not on college campuses.”

Mull ventured a guess that a college campus such as the state’s University at Albany is actually safer than the public at large because of the “community policing” policy that puts officers on campus 24-hours-per day, every day.

The White House Council report, however, states that problems of sexual assault are worst in the military, at colleges and universities, and in prison.

“One of the challenges presented by the reporting is that it makes it seem a lot more scary than it really is, because you’re hearing about every incident,” said Mull. “It’s more information than you might want, but we’re trying to stay ahead of it.”

More Guilderland News