Organization charges that Saint Mary's failed to report rapes
By MYRA McGRIFF
Saint Mary's Editor
Security on Campus, Inc. (SOC), a non-profit watchdog organization, filed a complaint of with the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), accusing the College of violating federal laws pertaining to the reporting and disclosure of sexual assaults on campus.
In the complaint filed May 8, SOC alleges that Saint Mary's violated the 1990 Clery Act which requires schools to provide campus crime statistics and warnings of on-going threats to students.
The complaint alleges Saint Mary's failed to record at least two sexual offenses in security reports, failed to categorize crimes accurately, failed to correctly identify crime locations and has both non-existent and incomplete policy statements.
The Clery Act defines specific procedures which schools must follow in reporting and disclosing crime information.
According to the act, colleges must include: the geographical locations of crimes, all required crime categories, as well as adopt the Campus Sexual Assault Victims Bill of Rights.
SOC claims the alleged January 1999 rape of Saint Mary's student Sarah Alter by a Notre Dame student was not "disclosed to students through Saint Mary's official published security report, or to the U.S. Department of Education."
In its complaint, SOC also states that an alleged April 1996 rape of another Saint Mary's student also went unreported.
The complaint states, "During the course of our investigation we were contacted by a former student of the college who related that she had reported a rape to the institution, which they indicated, would never 'be counted in the statistics since it was merely an alleged incident.' This April 1996 rape was allegedly committed by a male musician from a foreign country visiting the campus as part of a cultural program. It was reported to both campus and local police (St. Joseph County). The college's 1999 security report (exhibit A attached) reports "0" forcible rapes for 1996."
With the help of both former and current Saint Mary's students, SOC vice president S. Daniel Carter compiled the information in the complaint and hopes it will lead to an on-site program review from DOE.
Carter said the procedure is an audit of all Saint Mary's actions in regard to crime reporting and procedure. The auditing processes takes months to complete will also include interviews of students and campus officials. Keith Dennis, vice president of finance and administration, said he hopes Saint Mary's can correct its infraction before such action is taken. Dennis, in reviewing the campus' compliance with the Cleary Act, says Saint Mary's has not intentionally falsified or with held reports or statistics of crimes on campus. He explains missed data to a clerical error.
"We are trying to understand how we are reporting," said Dennis. "The events were reported in the statistics but in the wrong year."
The SOC complaint also mentions that Saint Mary's has not let the community know where crimes have taken place which the complaint outlines, "helps students better understand what areas of campus are prone to various types of crime." Although Dennis does acknowledge not having an up to date crime log procedure, he does reassure the college hopes to improve. He said after going to recent conferences on crime reporting he understands that college policy needs updating. He said they college is working on revising policies on campus communication and reporting annual campus crime statistics.
"Yes we can do a better job … we must make sure we are communicating with the campus," said Dennis. "We have the summer to find out how to educate the campus."
However even if Saint Mary's amends the current practices of crime reporting, Carter still wants the college to be reviewed. In reviewing, Carter feels DOE can make sure Saint Mary's has reported all past incidents of crime. And although the complaint concerns Saint Mary's, Carter hopes it will speak as a wake up call to Notre Dame.
"We hope this will lead to better response and policy change from Saint Mary's and Notre Dame," said Carter. Some students see the complaint filed by SOC as a starting point.
They see some gray areas in the Cleary Act that Saint Mary's as a women's college can improve on.
Alter, who was featured in a March Cosmopolitan article about campus rape, feels that Saint Mary's needs to establish concrete guidelines on how women should report crimes and provide victims of sexual assault with lists of counseling services in and out side Saint Mary's community. Alter feels Saint Mary's needs to do a better job educating the community about dealing with assaults.
"I think the complaint is the first step to make sure Saint Mary's is in compliance, which right now they are not. There is definitely more that can be done. I think CARE (Campus Alliance for Rape Elimination) is great, but Saint Mary's need staff that is trained to handle rape and assault cases," Alter said.
All News Stories for Friday, May 18, 2001