Universities Open Crime Records Under New Disclosure Law
Dana Getzinger says she was naive and unsuspec (AP) _ a typical college student - when a stranger in a ski mask sneaked into her room and tried to rape her while she was a sophomore at the University of Georgia.
Getzinger was stabbed and nearly died in the 1988 attack, which she later learned was at least the fifth within three months on students in her neighborhood near the campus.
″The universities tell you nothing,″ she said. ″Schools are placing a greater importance on their image than on student safety.″
More than 4,000 violent crimes - among them 16 murders and 493 rapes - were reported last year to security officials at the nation’s 580 largest universities and colleges, The Associated Press found through a review of figures being released this month under a new federal disclosure law.
The federal Campus Security Act for the first time this year requires all universities and colleges to provide students, faculty, staff and prospective students and their parents with crime statistics for the previous three years, as well as a description of security precedures.
The law covers 2,222 colleges and universities. Schools that don’t comply risk losing eligibility for federal money.
Many public institutions previously released such information, but most private institutions kept it confidential.
″Part of their sales pitch was, ’Come to this idyllic, safe-appearing campus,‴ said Dorothy Siegel, director of the Campus Violence Prevention Center at Towson State University in Maryland. ″They were not recognizing that gradually crime was creeping in.″
The crime statistics are being handed out to students on most campuses this month.
″The most difficult thing in dealing with violent crime is convincing people that it will happen,″ said Marvin Herrington, chief of police at Stanford University, where an employee was fatally shot on campus Tuesday. ″You get lulled into a false sense of security.″
The schools surveyed by the AP enroll 5.6 million students. Collectively, they reported 2,528 aggravated assaults, 928 robberies, 5,081 car thefts and 15,313 burglaries during 1991.
Victim advocates question the value of statistics furnished by some universities and colleges.
″If the initial reports are that crime is vastly below what we’re seeing in broader society, I would be very skeptical of that,″ said David Beatty, a spokesman for the National Victim Center.
There were 42.3 reported rapes per 100,000 people in America last year, according to the FBI. The schools surveyed by the AP reported 8.8 rapes per 100,000 students, a figure that leaves some people dubious.
″It misrepresents the reality,″ said Gail Abarbanel, director of the Santa Monica, Calif., Rape Treatment Center and co-author of a book about sexual assault on campus. ″It gives people the impression that rape isn’t happening, when it’s practically an epidemic.″
The University of Iowa reported four sexual assaults last year. But officials from the area’s Rape Victim Advocacy Program say they handled 39 rapes during that time in which a student was the victim. Twelve occurred on campus.
Abarbanel and others say students share the blame for failing to report crime - particularly rapes committed by their fellow students. And many incidents on campus are reported to municipal officials, not the school’s security department.
″The problem is not that the schools weren’t reporting, it’s that students haven’t been,″ said Carl Stokes, law enforcement director at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Many crimes, included Getzinger’s near-fatal stabbing, happen off campus and go unreported by the schools.
Ohio University’s disclosure documents show no murders, though a gunshot fired from a passing car killed a senior four blocks from the campus. Six University of Florida and one community college student have been killed near the university’s Gainesville campus since 1990, but the crime statistics given students say there were no murders.
″We haven’t done anything to obscure the fact that the murders occurred in the city of Gainesville,″ said Joe Kays, a school spokesman. ″Technically, a University of Florida student could have been murdered in Ocala. Does that fall within the purview of the reporting requirements?″
Some schools see financial reasons for accurately reporting crime. The University of Southern California was ordered to pay $1.6 million last spring to a student raped at knifepoint in an off-campus dormitory. The student argued that the university concealed information about crime in the neighborhood.
″It’s ludicrous to say because it happens on a sidewalk, it doesn’t happen on campus,″ said John Kuprevich, commissioner of public safety for the University of Pennsylvania. ″Playing with numbers and changing numbers isn’t going to change reality.″