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No alerts issued for sexual assaults on campus

No alerts issued for sexual assaults on campus

March 10
02:58 2016

Chelsea Watkins | Staff Writer

@chelloo

There were seven instances of sexual assault reported to campus police in 2015, according to police records, but none of them were reported to the UNT community.

UNT administrators said if the university notified the campus on every sexual assault case, the student body would become desensitized and stop paying attention.

According to the UNT police crime log, the last crime alert of sexual assault on campus was made more than two years ago, on Feb. 18, 2014. Already in 2016, there have been two reported cases of sexual assault. One at Kerr Hall on Jan. 6 and another at Victory Hall Feb. 7, according to the log.

When and why universities report a sexual assault crime to the general public is governed by the Clery Act. Not all sexual assaults must be reported to the community, according to university officials interpreting the law. Students must be notified of crimes of this nature when there is a timely or continuous threat, dean of students Maureen McGuinness said.

A UNT student is suing the university for mishandling the investigation of her sexual assault report made to officials on Jan. 12, 2015. There was no alert given for the incident. The student alleges a library employee was allowed to remain on campus even though she feared for her safety.

UNT President Neal Smatresk, who is a defendant in the suit, said when compared to other Texas universities, UNT has done more than it should to disclose crimes to the community.

“The trouble is, as we kind of zealously adhere to the law, it gives an illusion that we’re less safe, which is actually the opposite of what we’re attempting to achieve in the name of disclosure,” he said.

Every report is handled on a case-by-case basis, where they review the nature of the crime, the crime’s threat to the campus and the risk of compromising law enforcement, McGuinness said.

Alerting crimes in this fashion is not exclusive to UNT.

Texas Woman’s University Police Chief Elizabeth Pauley said they also send out alerts under the pretense of continuous threat.

In 2013, Texas Christian University’s police department adopted the “continuous threat” methodology through the Clery Act and only alerts the students if crimes uphold to the criteria, according to a report from the TCU 360 student newspaper.

Other universities provide a stream of alerts to the campus community.

The University of Texas at Austin’s police department has made a crime blotter through its campus watch archive readily available on its website for students to subscribe and receive alerts of daily crimes. These crime alerts include briefs on bike theft, public intoxication and assault that are reported to or observed by the university police department.

According to its website, UT’s crime watch archive does not “represent an official crime log or compliance with federal or state statutes.”

“There are some institutions that kind of take the approach [where] they send out timely warnings for everything,” UNT Police Chief Ed Reynolds said. “The problem with that approach is that you quit looking at them.”

Not every Clery crime listed on the crime log was necessarily reported to the police. There are more sexual assault cases listed on UNT’s annual Security and Fire Safety Report, which includes reports made to other police agencies, such as the Denton County Sheriff’s Office, Reynolds said.

He added there are cases of students going to their residential assistant to report a sexual assault, in which they may only give a small amount of information that doesn’t allow for investigation or an alert.

Other times, reports of sexual assault are disclosed to the police a month after the event happened, which takes away from the timeliness needed for a campus-wide crime alert, Reynolds said.

UNT police Lt. David Owens said there has to be a balance between students’ desire to know when these types of situations happen and the victims’ privacy.

“We don’t want this to just be information sharing because that’s not what it’s supposed to be, it’s for safety,” Owens said. “There is a continuing threat and that trumps everything else.”

Integrative studies senior Raylon Pace said the university should alert students of any sexual assault or stalking reports they receive, regardless of how threatening they may be to the rest of the campus community.

“[The university] doesn’t seem to take this issue seriously when a lot of students, mostly female, are being victimized,” Pace said.

Smatresk also noted the university has tried over the past two years to educate the community on sexual assault awareness, making sure students know how to report incidents.

“There’s always a sensitivity of what students want disclosed on a personal level versus something that rises as a criminal activity,” Smatresk said. “Bear in mind, how many students would like it if we freely disclose information about them that they reported in confidence or that was not yet verified.”

The police have made its crime log available online for anyone to view and see what kind of crimes have taken place in the last 60 days, he said.

“There is no intent on our part, or the university’s part, to hide anything,” Reynolds said.

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1 Comment

  1. Samra Bufkins
    Samra Bufkins March 10, 16:02

    This is shocking. I remember when we used to get alerts about sexual assaults as well as other types of crime such as robberies and assaults. “Desensitize”? No–alerts make us more aware.

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