Colleges Review Sexual Assault Policies

By Briana Vannozzi

Out of every 100 victims of campus sexual assault, only five will report it to police.

“What we know is that the vast majority of survivors of sexual violence never come forward. They don’t go forward to law enforcement. They don’t necessarily come forward or to advocacy offices like mine,” said Laura Luciano.

That statistic, quoted by several universities, is often debated. Because many, like Luciano with the Rutgers Office of Violence Prevention say it’s probably even higher.

“In our student code of conduct, sexual assault has always been what we call a separable offense meaning if someone is found responsible, they can be removed from the university community,” she said.

College campuses around the state and nation are taking a closer look at current sexual misconduct policies. Just this week, Princeton University approved changes to the school’s sexual misconduct guidelines. Among other things it calls for adjudication to be led by a team of three trained investigators instead of students and staff. It also gives victims the right to bring a lawyer or advisor to all meetings and lowers the burden of proof from “clear and persuasive” to a preponderance of evidence, meaning more likely than not. A federal law called the Cleary Act also requires all colleges to keep stats on the crimes and post them.

“We have to keep a daily log. That daily log has to be available for 90 days and the logs are also kept for I believe seven years. Cleary stats are reported annually,” said Barbara Berreski, director of government and legal affairs for the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities.

Earlier this year, the White House released a report on campus sex crimes and the results were pretty startling. About 75 to 80 percent of those assaulted will know their attackers and it said that most will happen during their freshman or sophomore year, usually while intoxicated.

“We were one of the first schools in the nation to have an on-campus sexual assault response team,” said Dr. Karen Pennington, vice president of student development and campus life at Montclair State University.

At Montclair State University, Pennington says sexual assault crimes have always been taken seriously, typically resulting in expulsion.

“We have a Title IX coordinator who has been trained to handle those types of investigations, to talk to the students involved to see what kind of information can be brought forward,” Pennington said.

And according to the U.S. Department of Education, among all public and private higher education institutions in New Jersey, there were 67 forcible sexual offenses on campus for 2010, 78 in 2011 and 81 in 2012.

“The biggest challenge is getting students to come forward and admit that something happened. People are embarrassed. They feel they’ve done something to provoke it they don’t want to have people think of them differently,” said Pennington.

Which is why those at the forefront say the key to it all is not just harsher penalties, but prevention, starting the conversations earlier than the first day of college.