Congress watch on campus crime

May 24, 1996

The case of an Ohio student allowed to continue college after admitting a drunken sexual assault on a woman classmate has helped renew the controversy over the handling of campus crime.

In a two-page letter to his alleged victim, published in part in the New York Times, the student, a member of the wrestling team at the Miami University of Ohio, begged her not "to destroy my life", although, he said, "I hurt you very seriously."

He was put on "student conduct probation" and will be allowed to graduate this year. The woman herself had fallen asleep in her clothes after an off-campus drinking party, and did not bring a criminal complaint, despite the urging of police.

The case prompted outspoken Boston University president John Silber to write that United States colleges and universities "increasingly tend to circumvent the courts and bury serious criminal cases in their own judicial systems". Students are getting the same special treatment they used to avoid the draft in the Vietnam war, he said.

Congress has tentatively scheduled hearings for next month on the better enforcement of existing laws on campus crime as well as the proposed Open Campus Police Logs Act. The act would allow students and their families access to crime records, including names of those charged or convicted.

Security on Campus, a leading advocacy group formed by the parents of murdered student Jeanne Clery, whose killer lingers on death row, has campaigned for nearly ten years against the "hidden epidemic of violence" on campuses.

The group has helped pass a series of laws, including the Student Right To Know and Campus Security Act of 1990, which required colleges to publish reports on campus crime. But it has accused the education department of failing to enforce them. Last month, for the first time, the department said it will start to monitor whether colleges comply.

Renewed focus on campus crime, and the criticism that college disciplinary procedures play down or mishandle allegations that should be the domain of the regular police, has nettled the college community. One recent survey showed a 12 per cent increase in sex offences in 1994, but much of the rise is due to greater reporting, experts say. The main crime on US campuses is simple larceny.

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