Keeping Students Safe on Campus

October 9, 2012

The following post appears courtesy of Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs, Mary Lou Leary

Last week, I was privileged to speak at the Clery Center for Security on Campus’s 25th anniversary gathering.  Founded by Connie Clery – who was moved to action by the brutal rape and murder of her daughter, Jeanne – the Clery Center has made a tremendous impact on campus culture by raising awareness of sexual assaults on campus to help make schools safer and provide support and resources for victims.

There was a time when we didn’t talk about campus violence.  We took for granted that our institutions of higher education were peaceful havens for learning.  Meanwhile, victims were often left without support or services. That changed significantly with the passage of the Clery Act in 1990. 

That landmark piece of legislation helped university officials understand the importance of disclosing crimes and security risks.  Thanks to the Clery Act – and to the education and awareness the Clery Center has provided over the years – colleges and universities now are much more focused on solving a problem than on admitting one exists.

But we’re far from meeting all our challenges – especially the problem of sexual assault.  Several studies sponsored by our National Institute of Justice indicate that between 14 and 30 percent of college students experience some type of sexual violence during their college careers. 

In one study, close to 12 percent of students reported being a victim of rape.  And current research suggests that as many as 85 to 90 percent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.  Often, alcohol is involved.  Victims in these cases often feel they bear some responsibility for the rape, and fail to report it, fearing they’ll be poorly treated by the police or other parts of the system.  As long as this fear of reporting prevails, we have more to do.

Several years ago, our National Institute of Justice issued a report recommending schools have written response protocols to campus crime, provide prevention education to the general student population, and make sure adequate services are available for the victims.

More recently, our Bureau of Justice Assistance supported a review of campus crime prevention efforts with a national survey of universities on evidence-based crime prevention practices, and held focus groups to discuss where to target campus crime prevention efforts. 

The Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women has awarded $132 million to 360 institutions of higher education since 1999 to help schools develop standards and create programs to address violence against women on campus.  Information gathered from these and other efforts has helped produce useful tools, like a mobile app that provides students and parents access to campus crime statistics and resources on campus safety.  This is a terrific tool, given students’ historic lack of access to information about campus crime. 

Through OJP’s work and partnerships with organizations like the Clery Center, we have raised the profile of campus crime victims and made student safety a top priority of our system of higher education.  

Let’s continue to build on that momentum, working to put systems in place that protect students, help victims, and ensure that our colleges and universities are safe communities for learning and growth.