For parents, sending children off to college can be an anxiety-inducing experience. They hope their children will be happy, make friends, excel in school, and be safe. But violent crime on campuses – especially violence against women – is raising concerns about just how safe students are when they leave home for college.
September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month, an initiative launched by the Clery Center for Security on Campus. The center is named for Jeanne Clery, who in 1986 was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room. After her death, Clery’s parents learned campus authorities failed to warn students about crimes on campus, and there was no law requiring them to do so. Because of the Clery family’s efforts, the Jeanne Clery Act went into effect in 1991, requiring colleges that receive federal funding to notify students of campus crime and to develop policies aimed at reducing campus crime.
The Clery Act has resulted in more transparency about college crimes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean colleges are safer.
The U.S. Dept. of Education tracks college crime reports, but their data does not show whether those crimes resulted in prosecutions or convictions.
In Texas, at four-year public colleges that have student residential facilities, the number of reported forcible sex offenses on campus more than doubled in a two-year time frame – 51 such offenses were reported in 2011, and 113 were reported in 2013.
One reason reports of sexual assault have increased could be that colleges are creating environments that encourage victims to report crimes and are developing stronger policies about sexual violence. The University of Texas has taken many pro-active measures about this issue.
At UT-Austin, freshmen are required to watch a video that tells them what to do if they’re assaulted. Student actors also perform a role-playing skit for students that explores questions about consent, which students discuss as a group. And in August, the UT system launched a $1.7-million study of sexual assault that will perform surveys and focus groups across several campuses, along with a four-year cohort study of victims and non-victims, and a study of long-term impacts for victims.
Security on Campus
In 2012, Virginia Tech was found negligent for the 2007 school shooting in which a gunman killed 32 people before killing himself. In their complaint against the school, the families of two victims alleged the school wasted precious time after the first two victims were shot – the school did not warn the campus about the shooting, because they believed the perpetrator might have been a jealous boyfriend and was not a threat to others. But police were pursuing the wrong lead. As they questioned the boyfriend, the shooter entered a campus building and opened fire. The university warned the campus about the shooting 10 minutes after that horrifying episode began.
A false alarm is a much better alternative than a failure to warn students of a potentially imminent danger. Parents and students should feel comfortable asking how a college handles reports of crime and how it alerts students of threats or emergencies. Students should know where to go in the event of a lockdown or other emergency and how to report a crime – and to whom.
Although parents may be nervous about sending their children off to college, they may take some comfort in knowing universities are working harder than ever to promote policies and practices that keep students safe.
If you have questions about how college crime might apply to your situation, discuss it with one of the attorneys at the Austin, TX-based Evans Law Firm. As personal injury attorneys with years of experience, we help the people of Texas put their lives back on track. We offer small law firm attention with big law firm results. Call today at 1-855-414-1012 or fill out this online contact form to find out how we can help you.