Reported campus sex offense cases do not always lead to community alerts

Karen Chow/File

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According to a recent Bay Area News Group analysis of 2015 crime statistics, UC Berkeley issued campuswide alerts for less than 30 percent of reported sexual offenses that occurred on or near campus in 2015.

The analysis, which also reviewed crime statistics for Stanford University, San Jose State, San Francisco State and Cal State East Bay, found that 45 cases of campus sex offenses were reported in 2015, and students were notified of 11 through alerts sent out by UC Police Department. Of the five campuses reviewed, UC Berkeley was the only one to report sexual assault by acquaintances.

The Jeanne Clery Act, which was passed in 1990, requires all federally funded colleges and universities to inform the public of crime on campus, within a mile of campus and at university events — information that is distributed through campuswide email alerts.

In some cases where the suspect is already in custody, alerts are not always sent out because the specific crime is no longer considered an “ongoing threat,” according to UCPD Lt. Marc DeCoulode. The Clery Act only requires campus alerts if the specific crime is still a continuing danger to the community.

According to DeCoulode, when deciding whether to issue an alert for cases where suspects are already in custody, UCPD looks at whether the alert will jeopardize prosecution, whether the situation is still a threat to the community and whether there are potential additional survivors who will come forward.

“Even though it’s not required, we’ll do it both in an effort to assist with the investigation and keep people informed of what’s going on,” DeCoulode said, adding that UCPD does not often send out alerts for these cases.

DeCoulode said that UCPD reports what people tell it directly and also what the Berkeley Police Department tells it — but, he said, not all survivors are willing to report sexual assault.

“I think for a lot of people, knowing that something might be publicly announced is a discouragement to reporting,” said Selina Lao, a campus senior and ASUC student advocate. “But also I’ve heard that some people do report because they don’t want to see this happen to anyone else.”

Lao said some survivors wish to preserve their anonymity and identity out of fear of the consequences of reporting. According to Lao, it is understandable that UCPD does not issue alerts for some crimes for which suspects are already in custody, especially because the alerts can sometimes contain triggering language and situations.

Part of the value of crime alerts, Lao said, is to keep the university accountable when such assaults occur.

Marisa McConnell, violence prevention policy director for the ASUC Office of the Academic Affairs Vice President, thinks the campus has a responsibility to issue timely warnings for every sexual assault regardless of whether the suspect is in custody. She believes UCPD’s current notification policy creates the misconception that sexual assault is uncommon.

“When the decision to send out an advisory is left up to whether or not it’s perceived as a threat to students, (this) only silences survivors,” McConnell said in an email.

Contact Ashley Wong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @wongalum.