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State report offers view into colleges’ handling of sexual assault cases

State report offers view into colleges’ handling of sexual assault cases

About a quarter of reported incidents turn into cases pursued by college officials, according to new state data

ALBANY -- A state report released this month offers a school-level look into how colleges and universities across New York handle reports of sexual assault.

The report, produced for the first time this year under a 2015 law, includes self-reported data on how many incidents of sexual assault and dating violence occurred on both public and private colleges across the state and how those reports were handled by schools.

The data shows that across the state about 23 percent of reported incidents were pursued by the alleged victim or the college and a judgment was rendered through the college’s internal process. Of those cases, 32 percent of alleged perpetrators were found not responsible and 47 percent were found responsible, according to the data.

That pattern appears to be mirrored on local campuses as well, where around a quarter of reported incidents resulted in an adjudication.

At residential campuses across the Capital Region, rates of Title IX incidents – incidents of sexual harassment or misconduct – ranged from about 6 reported incidents per 1,000 students to 10 incidents per 1,000 students.

Skidmore College, with the highest rate of alleged incidents in the area, responded to just over 10 reported violations for every 1,000 students during the 2018 calendar year: 28 incidents for just over 2,600 students. Union College responded to 7.8 incidents per 1,000 students: 17 incidents for just over 2,100 students in 2018.

The state report comes as part of a state law passed in 2015 aimed at expanding transparency around how colleges handled incidents of sexual misconduct. The law requires both public and private colleges to annually report how many Title IX incidents occurred on and off campus and how those incidents were ultimately resolved.

The law required the state Education Department to compile the data and release the first report by October 2017, but that process has been slow. The state released the report earlier this month and added revised data after the Albany Times-Union inquired about inaccurate enrollment figures included in the report. The recently released report covers incidents that occurred throughout calendar year 2018.

At Union College, the vast majority of alleged incidents in 2018 occurred on campus – 15 out of 17 – and only two of the incidents resulted in reports to local police, according to the report. In five of those incidents, the alleged victim or the college pursued adjudication under the college’s internal process for handling such case.

In those cases, two accused students were found not responsible, while three accused students were found responsible. None of the students found responsible were expelled or suspended, according to the data. The three students were listed as receiving “sanctions other than expulsion (or) dismissal.”

A Union spokesman would not comment on the report, but Union President David Harris in a November interview said Union, like college campuses across the country, has a problem with campus sexual assault.

“The United States has a problem with sexual assaults; campuses have a problem with sexual assault,” Harris said. “And Union College is a United States campus, and we have a problem with sexual assault.”

A pair of women filed lawsuits this spring arguing Union officials mishandled their alleged rapes at the hands of fellow students, increasing focus on how the college handles the issue of campus rape.

In recent months, the college has hired a consultant to review its policies and instituted a student and staff committee to assist in the work. Harris said he has not found that Union's policies and practices fall far short of what is needed and insisted campus sexual assault is a universal problem, while adding more can be done to ensure all Union students understand the protections in place. He said college officials are working with students and staff to improve the way the school's sexual harassment policies and practices are shared more widely and to ensure they are fully understood by students.

“Goal one: no sexual assaults at Union College. Goal two: if someone feels like they’ve been assaulted, they will feel like they can report it and they will be taken serious,” Harris said of the message he has sent to students on the issue. “Goal three: Any report we receive will be investigated and we will take all the actions we can.”

At Skidmore College, three out of 28 reported incidents resulted in a report to local police, though at least nine of the incidents reportedly occurred off campus. And in just four of those reported incidents did the alleged victim or the college pursue a case through the school’s internal process, according to the state report. In those four cases, three accused students were found not responsible while one was found responsible and was suspended.

In a statement provided by a spokeswoman, Skidmore said it is committed to "maintaining a safe campus environment" and ensuring students and staff know how to report crimes and other incidents. The statement alluded to the national scale of the problem and said increased reporting of abuses "seems to reflect a growing awareness and willingness among our students to come forward, seek resources, and make their voices heard."

"Unfortunately, as national statistics indicate, these crimes are happening on college campuses, and Skidmore is working diligently to educate and provide resources and support to ensure our students know they are in a safe and supportive environment," according to the statement. 

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