Opinion: CU police light on sex crime

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Members of the CU community will be familiar by now with the “safety alerts” they sometimes receive via email. More often than not, these alerts contain information about possible or confirmed sexual assaults on and around campus. But what CU students and faculty may not know is that they don’t get the whole story. In fact, they’re not even getting half of it.

CU Police Department does not view acquaintance rape as a threat to the community.

Under the Clery Act, a federal law instituted in 1990 requiring colleges and universities to disclose certain campus crimes, CU Police Department reports all sexual offenses on and around campus in a log on the CU Police Department website. The police is also required to send notifications — known as Clery Timely Warnings — to the campus community when they receive reports they believe constitute a threat to the area.

While logging all campus crime in the designated database is legally obligatory, the warnings are left to the discretion of the police.

In an interview with CU Independent reporter Alison Noon on Jan. 28 for a forthcoming news story on a different aspect of the Clery Act, CUPD spokesperson Robert Axmacher gave more details on the subject.

The police will send out an alert for “any Clery Act crime that occurs in our geography and [which] the institution believes presents a serious or ongoing threat,” Axmacher said.

He went on to explain that CUPD generally uses three criteria when deciding whether to send an alert for a sex offense: a somewhat reliable source, timeliness and whether the incident occurred between two acquaintances.

Axmacher said CU police typically will not send out a security alert for a sexual offense if the aggressor and the victim knew each other.

According to the National Institute of Justice, as many as 90 percent of sexual assaults that college women report are committed by someone previously known to the victim. This means the vast majority of sex offenses at CU are not considered serious or ongoing threats by its police department and will never be communicated to the campus community as such.

“If you come to us and say: ‘Hey, last night I was out with my boyfriend and things went too far, and I’m not comfortable with what happened.’ What do you think? Should we send an email to 50,000 people and say we received a report of a sex assault?” Axmacher asked.

But his view is exceptionally narrow in this regard. Sexual assault between acquaintances is not limited to one person’s regret after a strange night with their significant other. A person at a party comes into contact with a lot of people in their acquaintance: classmates; old exes; TAs; oh, I don’t know, even faculty members of the philosophy department.

While the CUPD’s desire not to cause excessive alarm is understandable, its relaxed attitude as to the seriousness of pervasive sexual assault on campus is not. Fewer than 5 percent of all sex offenses committed on campuses in America are reported to campus administrators or law enforcement, the National Institute of Justice said. It seems CUPD should respond with the gravity that the few reports are due.

But, as too often happens on college campuses, in the U.S. military and around the country, the university seems to be keeping most sex offenses as quiet as possible in order to save the school from embarrassment and possible financial consequences.

Failing to address all areas—the most crucial areas—of a problem will only help to perpetuate it.

I don’t feel safe when those in charge of my safety do not consider “a serious or ongoing threat” the crimes that are four times more likely to affect me than the ones that actually do show up in my email inbox.

Contact CU Independent Opinion Editor Lauren Thurman at Lauren.thurman@colorado.edu.

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