Standard for safety set by Clery Act

Erin Beck

Life as a freshman at Lehigh University, Pa., would be the last thing that Jeanne Clery would ever know. In April of 1986, at only 19 years of age, Clery was raped and beaten in her residence hall room, strangled to death by a fellow student.

The Clery Act came into existence in 1990, spurred into action by the number of hidden violent offenses taking place on college campuses. Clery’s rape and murder brought on legal action to disclose those crimes nationwide.

Under the Clery Act, systems and institutions of higher education are required by the federal government to report statistics and information relating to crime on their campuses and within their communities.

“The Clery Act is a list of reported allegations, a cleaning of all the evidence and making sure reports are all reported as is,” said Tracy Greene, SDSU’s university counsel.

The U.S. Department of Education enforces the Clery Act. If campuses don’t comply with the act, they risk suspension from engaging in the federal financial aid program and can expect to be charged heavy fines.

According to Adam Goldstein, an attorney advocate at the Student Press Law Center, the Clery Act includes three requirements higher educational systems must meet. Colleges must publish a daily crime log, an annual crime report and a “timely warning” for possible public dangers such as bomb threats or sexual predators.

Goldstein cites the daily crime log as the most labor-intensive of the act’s regulations. Any crime report that the campus police receives must be available in the log for public inspection.

“The daily crime log has to have all crime reports if those crimes are true,” Goldstein said.

The second requirement of the Clery Act requires that universities must publish a statistical crime report every year. The report must include a numerical account of crimes that have happened on campus within the last year as well as statements of the types of crimes involved.

The third requirement of the act is the issuance of “timely warnings.” Within 48 hours of a dangerous incident, the university must provide as much information as needed for the protection of students and faculty on campus. This requirement also includes a provision for immediate warning enforcement: if the issue at hand is an immediate threat to campus safety, the university must let its campus know immediately.

While the Clery Act requires that all crimes must be reported, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act draws a fine line between confidentiality and disclosure. FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of records on student education.

According to Goldstein, campus security is not under the protection of FERPA and must record anything that is reported. For victims who don’t wish to disclose their names with the crimes being reported, the Clery Act maintains confidentiality: the crime will then be reported as a statistic.

Title IX requirements in the Clery Act require that if a school is aware of any sexual harassment taking place, the school must take measures to immediately terminate the harassment and prevent it from recurring, whether or not the victim desires to file a complaint.

According to Title IX in this case, any crime with a sexual predator will need to have pertinent information regarding the sexual predator revealed to the public, in accordance with the timely warning requirement of the Clery Act. The personal identity of the victim will still remain confidential.

In 2010, SDSU received a program review report from the Department of Education. According to the audit, SDSU was listed as incomplete in six different areas under the Clery Act, including a failure to properly classify and disclose crime statistics.

According to Doug Wermedal, associate vice president for Student Affairs, each year a routine audit is performed with a number of universities selected at random.

“They asked us to correct some reporting procedures, amongst other findings,” Wermedal said.

According to Wermedal, when the Department of Education performs an audit under the Clery Act, the department has the ability to levy monetary fines against the institution. No fines were levied against SDSU, but certain procedures needed adjustments, including SDSU’s over-reporting of certain crime statistics.

“We’ve been very faithful to the changes that they recommended,” Wermedal said.

SDSU reported six forcible sex offenses in 2010, whereas in the previous two years only one sexual offense was reported. With the Chris Jones case of three sexual assaults in 2010 — two of which occurred on campus — students were more conscious of what was taking place on campus.

SDSU Dean of Students Sam Jennings II is in charge of any incident that relates to the Clery Act.

“We’re making sure to work hard in compliance with every aspect (of the Clery Act),” Jennings said. “The purpose of the act is to keep students safe.”

According to Jennings, if a victim of an attack walks through his door, the university will investigate the alleged assailant and any witnesses. With additional information, a student conduct hearing will be held. In Jennings’ opinion, the procedure is always to make sure that the victim feels safe.

“We take every single allegation of harassment and sexual assault to heart,” Jennings said.

Jennings defined sexual assault as a behavior involving a nature of violence. He addressed consent as a major factor in the issue. If no consent has been given, a sexual encounter could qualify as sexual assault.

“Things happen, and we know that,” Jennings said. “We expect students to be honest and report the truth.”

But there are times when students don’t report because they fear being associated with a crime or exposing a friend, or because they experience shame. Jennings said he understands the discomfort of the situation but advocates the resources that are on campus to help students, including the counseling center and himself.

“If something goes wrong, tell someone,” Jennings said. “Keeping a secret isn’t always going to keep a friendship or keep someone safe.”