Gaia Moments / Alamy

Crime logs show NYC schools mishandle sexual assault complaints

Campus reports are inaccurate and out of date and exclude numerous victims

On an ordinary Tuesday night, Fordham University freshman Hailey went out with friends to a bar near their campus in the Bronx. Afterward, she met up with another friend, who invited her over to his dorm room for pizza. Once there, they kissed. She didn’t mind at first, but as things progressed, she said she told him no. He didn't stop.

Hailey reported her alleged rape to the school. Fordham’s dean of students Christopher Rodgers dismissed the allegations and said nothing could be done, according to a letter from the school. Although the accused attacker was not allowed to be in contact with her, Hailey repeatedly saw him around campus. He was never charged or disciplined in the incident.

According to a three-month investigation of campus crime logs in New York City, Hailey’s case is not uncommon.

All schools that receive federal student aid must publicly disclose their crime statistics in annual security reports. These numbers should include incidents that happen on or off campus. Al Jazeera America viewed logs from 15 New York City colleges recording crimes over four years (from January 2010 to September 2014) and interviewed five survivors. Official school records contained numerous inaccuracies, including no mention of assaults that were reported.

Furthermore, rape allegations often resulted in little or no action.

Only 43 percent of sexual offenses reported on New York City’s college campuses met with some form of discipline. Only 27 percent were referred to NYPD.

Fordham University reported the most assaults, with 62. Eleven of those cases were transferred to the NYPD or resulted in an arrest.

These findings come as the debate about how colleges handle sexual assault complaints by students intensifies nationwide.

“I do not find any of the [New York schools’] numbers regarding the incidence of sexual assaults to be reliable,” said Leslie Crocker-Snyder, a former Manhattan prosecutor and retired judge.

She co-wrote New York State’s rape shield law and founded the country’s first sex crimes prosecution bureau at the Manhattan district attorney’s office. She advocates for survivor rights and calls for more transparency from schools across the country.

“They have poor or no procedures,” Crocker-Snyder said. “They have totally untrained investigators and now they realize that people are getting serious and looking at what they’re doing.”

To report or not

Many crime reports are handled internally through campus police before students decide what action — if any — to take. Since a student’s first point of contact is often a school official, making the report to the college can be more convenient. College investigations generally take less time — typically 30 to 60 days — than formal police investigations.

A sexual assault evidence collection kit.
Scott Camazine / Alamy

Even though a rape kit samples were taken at St. Barnabas Hospital, Hailey (who’s still a student at the school and asked not to use her real name) reported the alleged attack to Fordham’s public safety department. She worried an NYPD investigation would take too long.

“If a kit is done and the victim chooses not to report a rape at the time, the kit is sealed and kept in the hospital’s morgue until such a time — at least a year — when the police special victims unit lets hospital security know that it can be discarded,” said hospital spokesman Steven Clark. “It is not discarded until the police tell the hospital this.”

Clark said Hailey’s rape kit is still sitting in the hospital morgue.

Part of the problem with campus police handling sexual assault cases is that public safety officers at many schools aren’t licensed, which means they can’t conduct criminal investigations or make arrests. Instead, school officials determine responsibility.

According to its first annual gender misconduct report from September 2014, Columbia University didn't punish any students for sexual assault during the previous academic year.  

“There were no findings of responsibility and thus no sanctions imposed in the category of sexual assault: nonconsensual intercourse,” the report stated.

New York University will report all violent felonies to police without a student’s consent — except sexual assault. If a student wishes to report a sexual assault to police, NYU will connect the student to an NYPD liaison who will walk the student through the process.

“This is a very personal decision and students know that alcohol can be involved and that a criminal case can be prolonged,” said Mary Signor, NYU’s Title IX officer. “These issues are highly sensitive and truly complicated.”

Flawed crime logs

Hailey said she met her dean at least twice over several weeks after she reported the assault.  

According to official school documents, she and her alleged rapist received no-contact orders from the dean. But the student kept his job as a campus tour guide.

“He would bring tours through my building every week. I’m like, ‘You can’t get this guy out of my building?’” she said. “I have to be out of my dorm or staying in my dorm in these hours because I know he’s giving a tour right through my floor.”

When reached by telephone, Hailey’s alleged attacker said he wouldn’t comment on the allegations but confirmed he gave tours for prospective students and their parents.

After a monthlong investigation, Fordham told Hailey they couldn’t prove she was raped.

“The reports and the information gathered in the investigation were not sufficient to hold the student responsible for violation of Fordham University’s policy on sexual offenses at this time,” assistant vice president and dean of students Christopher Rodgers said in his decision letter, dated March 21, 2013. An appeals committee upheld his decision two months later.

In an email, he said the school isn’t allowed to comment on specific cases.

Despite an appeals committee closing Hailey’s case in May 2013, it was one of 25 cases still listed as active on Fordham crime logs as of October 2014. As of January 2015, it was listed as being referred to the school’s administration for review.

A woman walks through the Fordham Heights neighborhood of the Bronx in New York. Fordham University reported 62 sexual assaults during the four years reviewed by Al Jazeera America. Eleven of those cases were transferred to NYPD or resulted in an arrest.
Andrew Burton / Getty Images

Data compiled from the 15 college campuses show 35 percent of sexual offense complaints are listed as open or under investigation.

New York University, which has 21 open forcible and nonforcible sexual assault cases on its crime logs, said it changed its policy to update crime logs systematically when the school changed its public safety management in early 2014.

“It is our current practice to annotate cases with a final disposition when it is known,” said public affairs director Philip Lentz. “When investigative efforts have been exhausted and there are no leads to contribute to case resolution, a case is annotated as closed pending further information. This was not always done in the past, but it is our policy now and will continue to be, going forward.”

Pace University’s website indicates no sexual assaults were recorded at its New York City campus from 2011 to 2013, but the school refused to provide Al Jazeera America access to its crime logs, despite numerous requests. 

Schools are required to make this information accessible to any member of the public, including the media, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting. A department representative said schools that don’t comply with these regulations may be fined up to $35,000.

Missing reports

Two NYU students’ complaints were reported to school officials but do not appear on the books. 

Emily (whose name has been changed) said she was sexually assaulted during an NYU study abroad program in Buenos Aires in August 2014. Her alleged attacker was not affiliated with NYU. 

“Some Argentinian woman found me crying on a streetcorner because I don’t speak Spanish and I was very lost and didn’t know how to get home,” she said.

Columbia University has set up a “sexual respect” website to convey information to students.

Emily was taken to the local police department in Buenos Aires, where she told officers and an NYU official about the attack. She decided not to press charges.

“What NYU explained to me was that I either had to go all the way and press charges in court or nothing,” she said.

When she returned to New York a month later, she said NYU told her she could either see a counselor or report the incident to campus public safety. She decided not to file a report. Crime logs at NYU currently do not contain any sexual offense complaints from its campus in Buenos Aires.  

Andrew Moon’s complaint, which he said happened in Manhattan, doesn’t appear on the logs either.

Moon, 21, said medical officials at NYU didn’t give him the option to file a report with public safety or NYPD when he was examined at NYU’s Langone Medical Center on Feb. 6, 2012.

He told doctors he believed he was drugged and raped by a man he met at a bar two days earlier. The man was not an NYU student.

“Two days ago — went to a ‘man’s house’ — was given a drink — does not remember anything — thinks he was drugged — thinks he had oral and/or anal sex with the man,” the report stated. The documents show Moon told doctors he couldn’t remember the 12 hours after the alleged attack. The doctor noted Moon asked for “a test to see if I was rufied” and that he had a “neck hickey.”

Other than a sexual assault information sheet attached to the report, there is no indication any physical evidence was taken. Moon said none was taken.

“I actually told him, ‘I don’t care if you probe up my ass. The thing is I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember if I was penetrated,’” he said. “And he said there’s nothing they can do.”

In an email, Lentz said NYU doesn’t comment on specific cases but confirmed that personnel advise students “how to officially report any alleged sexual misconduct, including law enforcement.”

Because neither Emily’s nor Moon’s alleged attacks went through public safety, their reports don’t show up on NYU’s crime logs.

Although Lentz maintains that the school keeps records of every report, he conceded that “there are occasions when a case of sexual assault enters the university disciplinary system directly, without the victim or others going to public safety.”

Turning to Title IX

Rosie Hoffman, 24, is one of 28 students listed in a Title IX complaint against Columbia University alleging the university did not adequately address their sexual assault complaints.Title IX protects students from sexual harassment and gender- and pregnancy-related discrimination.

Hoffman said she was drugged by a graduate student, dragged into a men’s room and raped on the second day of her freshman orientation at Columbia in January 2009. She said she reported the alleged attack to school officials a month later.

“I told my dean, and I told the office of disability services, and it was very clear from the beginning that my dean didn’t believe me,” she said.

Hoffman said her dean advised her not to report it to public safety and to focus on moving forward with her life.

Columbia declined Al Jazeera interviews with university president Lee Bollinger, the public safety director, Hoffman’s dean and the Title IX officer.

As of Jan. 12, 2015, 97 cases at 94 postsecondary institutions are being investigated by the Department of Education for Title IX violations. Columbia’s Barnard College was added to the list on Dec. 29, 2014.

NYU isn’t on the list. “We’re lucky we’re not one of the 75 schools on the list,” NYU president John Sexton said at a town hall on Nov. 11, 2013. “Because all you have to do is have one complaint and be on the list. So not being on the list is indicative that you’re doing well.”

It's a measure that doesn't sit well with students like Moon, who say student victims of sexual assault are still confronted with frustrating skepticism.

“What I really want to ask is, ‘Have you ever been raped?’” Moon said, referring to officials at NYU. “Have you ever had to get dressed and walk out and go talk to someone about this?"

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