Anyone who has held a conversation with me for more than four minutes knows I eat an unusual amount of peanut butter, and have an obsession with crime on college campuses and the protocol for handling these crimes. For the most part, it’s because of the gray legal system these crimes fall under –that liminal area of the student handbook’s code of conduct and the law. At the University of Miami there is the Dean of Student’ Office (DOSO) and University of Miami Police (a branch of the Coral Gables Police Department).
Both are separate entities whose business often times overlap. Most of the police reports I request first stem from the Dean of Student’s Office (DOSO). Only after the dean’s suggestion do students file reports with campus police (although some cases also are prosecuted solely by UMPD or are first filed by UMPD and transferred to DOSO).
I always wonder about the cases that happen behind DOSO’s closed doors that never reach the UMPD or the breadth of the state’s public record laws. I’ve asked Dean Tony Lake about these cases multiple times. And while Dean Lake is very nice and answers all my questions in his cozy lamp-lit office, he admits it’s school policy to not speak about them. They are not public record; only a subpoena could force him to divulge.
This week New Republic released an insightful long-form feature on female students who are sexually assaulted at the extremely evangelical Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Va. Even though one in five American women will be sexually assaulted in college, journalist Kiera Feldman explains it can be especially difficult to report these when the conservative leaders at the school question the legality of the crime in the first place. “How do you report sexual assault at a place where authorities seem skeptical that such a thing even exists?” she asks rhetorically.
Her piece delves into different stories of rape that have happened since the school opened in 2000 (in two particular cases she is granted journalistically envious access to the victims’ accounts). The school is filled with high-achieving homeschoolers with lofty conservative aspirations in politics. For most students it’s the first time away from home and associating with members of the opposite sex who aren’t family.
The school implements strict curfews and rules. However, in her piece, Feldman explains that Patrick Henry College suggests that women should cover themselves and not tempt men (even though a statement from the school denies this type of bias against women). Feldman goes on to explain how multiple students went to report sexual assaults and how the dean not only refused to seek police intervention and disciplinary punishment, often times blamed the victim for breaking curfew, drinking, and suggesting they were partially at fault. In one instance the dean forced the victim to repeat what had happened to her to the male student she claimed raped her. The dean stated HE had a right to face his accuser. Cringe.
The result was most women dropping out of a school they felt had failed them, while their male perpetrators graduated and landed high-paying jobs in Washington.
Since Patrick Henry College refuses government funding they do not have to report crimes through the Clery Act as the Department of Education demands all universities and colleges do. Patrick Henry College is one of four colleges in the country that don’t because they refuse this funding and rely solely on the deep pockets of their religious benefactors.
The University of Miami is not one of those four colleges. And I requested the Department of Education’s copy of UM’s Clery report to see how many assaults occurred on campus:
In 2010, there was one “forcible sex offense” that occurred by a stranger not in student accommodation.
In 2011, there were five forcible sex offenses that occurred by acquaintances in the student dorms on campus.
In 2012, there were three forcible sex offenses that occurred by acquaintances in the student dorms on campus.
There were no non-forcible sex offenses filed in 2010, 2011, or 2012.
The findings for 2013 have yet to be released.
Since UM must obey the Department of Education’s mandate to report sexual offenses, a campus crime report was issued for each offense. There was also an investigation conducted into each one (per Title IX) separate from the criminal investigation to ensure the victims were allowed to change dorm rooms, classes, and file restraining orders. According to the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, UM was obligated to inform the victims of their rights and to be prompt in its disciplinary investigations.
And while it’s impossible to know whether each student received the justice he or she deserved, these laws in place surely helped. The sexual assault victims at Patrick Henry College were immune to these legal resources and the only solace most received was in abandoning their education altogether.