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Drawbacks of Mandating Universities Report Sexual Assaults to Police

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* Editor’s Note: This article is part of In Public Safety’s series recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).*

By Timothy Hardiman

Campus sexual assaults have received intense media attention recently—from the disputed rape allegation and pending lawsuits at Columbia University to the retracted Rolling Stone article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity.

Such cases have ignited conversations about how to reduce the number of assaults as well as hold perpetrators accountable. One suggestion made repeatedly is to mandate that colleges and universities report assaults directly to law enforcement when they become aware of allegations.

An April 26 editorial in the New York Daily News discussed the disputed rape at Columbia University stating that, “what has happened at Columbia demonstrates how ill-equipped colleges and universities are to handle matters that belong strictly to law enforcement.”

[Related Article: One Assault, Two Crime Scenes: The Challenge of Handling Sexual Assault Cases]

sexual assault on college campusesWhile ideally every rape would be reported to the police and investigated and prosecuted, we know this isn’t the case. As a former Special Victims Squad Commander, I wish every person who was sexually assaulted would report it to the police. In addition to helping to prosecute rapists, I have found it is often therapeutic for victims to see their assailants brought to justice. But this isn’t my decision.

Unfortunately, many victims—college students or not—choose not to report sexual assault to law enforcement for a variety of reasons. This is their choice. Some victims seek help from family, friends, and rape crisis centers without notifying the police. Others go through the trauma alone.

Helping Students After Assaults
While bringing rapists to justice is important, making sure the victim gets help is even more important. If colleges are forced to report sexual assaults to law enforcement, it is likely that fewer victims will report to the colleges and fewer victims will get help because they do not want to involve police.

College students face additional challenges after an assault. If a student is assaulted by a fellow student and the victim chooses not to involve law enforcement, the victim faces the trauma of seeing the assailant on campus. The victim should notify the school of the assault so the school can take the necessary steps to protect the victim and aid in their recovery. This is the student’s right under Title IX.

College students also have additional resources to assist them after an assault. Schools have crisis counseling centers, which are located on campus and have a student-centric approach to address the unique stressors a college rape victims faces. A college student may also be most comfortable discussing an assault with a resident advisor or trusted faculty member. The student should have the ability to do so without triggering an unwanted notification to law enforcement.

In some jurisdictions, sexual assault victims may anonymously report a sexual assault to law enforcement through the You Have Options Program. This program has received positive reviews from victims. Requiring colleges and universities to notify law enforcement of reported sexual assaults would be taking an option away from this type of program. Sexual assault victims who attend college should not have fewer reporting options than victims who do not.

We must do all we can to encourage sexual assault victims to seek out the counseling that can aid in their recovery—not set policies that may discourage them from seeking help. Colleges and universities need to do a better job of investigating and adjudicating reports of sexual assault on their campuses. This is their responsibility. The fact that schools have not been living up to their responsibility is not a valid reason to reduce the options available to students who report sexual assaults.

Tim Hardiman.headshotAbout the Author: Timothy Hardiman is a 23-year veteran of the NYPD. He retired as an Inspector serving as the Commanding Officer of the 47th Precinct in the Bronx. Hardiman has extensive investigative experience having served as the Commanding Officer of the 71 St. Detective Squad in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Special Victims Squad.

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