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October 1, 2014

SUNY Cortland assesses crime factors

 

By SARAH VABER
Staff Reporter
sbullock@cortlandstandardnews.net

While no trends were apparent in an annual review of sexual harassment and sexual crimes on the SUNY Cortland campus, alcohol and social media seemed to play a role in the incidents, according to college administrators.
There were no discernible trends among the incidents last year, said Virginia Levine, a Title IX co-coordinator for the college and the executive assistant to the president.
“But the common denominator appears to be alcohol,” Levine said, adding other SUNY schools are also finding alcohol is involved in their complaints. She added social media is also contributing to the problem, since it is a venue for harassing posts and photos.
Each of the State University of New York campuses was required to submit an annual review of sexual complaints after the U.S. Department of Education determined a year ago SUNY’s grievance procedures did not provide prompt and equitable resolutions to sexual harassment, assault and violence complaints, according to the federal agency.
The SUNY administration agreed in October 2013 to provide reports to the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights about complaint types and how they were handled by the schools. The annual reports must be submitted through 2016.
SUNY CORTLAND CASES
There were six complaints of sexual misconduct on campus filed in the 2013 calendar year, said Mark DePaull, the assistant chief of the University Police Department.
Two of the complaints were of rape and a third was of forcible touching, DePaull said. Those complaints were made to the police department and the victims requested a police report be made, he said.
The three other complaints were made to other college offices, such as student conduct office, residence life and housing or the athletics department, but those involved did not want to make a police report or have an investigation.
In the two rape cases, the victims chose not to seek prosecution and the cases were closed through the student conduct office, DePaull said. An arrest was not made in the forcible touching case either, DePaull said, but he could not remember Tuesday if the case was referred to the student conduct office.
In 2012 there was a total of two sexual complaints made to any college office, while three were reported in 2011, he said.
DePaull said that in the 24 years he has served with the department, the sexual complaints have reached six before, but never any higher. Usually the college receives one to four complaints a year, he said.
“We haven’t seen a drop off or a large increase (in complaints),” DePaull said.
DePaull said alcohol often plays a role in sexual assaults on campus, as it does nationally.
“More than likely, at least the victim or the suspect are consuming alcohol, which of course does not give anyone the right to sexually assault someone,” he said.
PREVIOUS RELATIONSHIPS
In every sexual assault on campus since 1992, the victim knew the perpetrator prior to the incident, DePaull said. Often the perpetrator is a past intimate partner, a teammate or a classmate, he said.
Many victims choose not to pursue action against the perpetrator because of that previous relationship, DePaull said.
A suspect in an off-campus rape that was reported on Sept. 13 by a SUNY Cortland student was also known to the student, according to a release from the University police Department.
The student reported the rape occurredbetween 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. in an off-campus residence in the city, according to therelease.
City police are still investigating the incident, Lt. Rick Troyer said Tuesday.
There were no weapons involved in the reported attack, Troyer said, but it is unknown if drugs or alcohol were involved.
It is also unknown if she was attacked by one or more people, he said.
Troyer declined to release what street the reported rape occurred on.
FIGHTING BACK
Among the initiatives SUNY Cortland is taking to combat sexual misconduct is a two-and-half hour online training class required for all new and transfer students for the first time this year, Levine said. The class covers the types of situations students might inadvertently get into and how to avoid them, as well as how to avoid over drinking, she said.
The college is also developing continuing training for all students and training focused on what a person should do if they witness an incident, Levine said.
For years, SUNY Cortland has trained residential life and housing staff, using the Sexual Health and Assault Prevention Educators program, she said.
The SHAPE program focuses on training students to educate and help other students, as well as to advocate for healthy relationships and assault risk reduction.
The University Police Department also offers a free self-defense course, the Rape Aggression Defense System, or RAD, to students, faculty and staff.
SUNY Cortland’s Students Active For Ending Rape, or SAFER, also holds a Take Back the Night march every semester in an effort to promote a culture against all forms of sex assault or violence of any kind.

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