Lessons for Penn State: Cover-Ups Cost Money, Student Lives

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Colleges Try to Protect Their Image

An investigation initiated by EMU's Board of Regents concluded that school officials had endangered students to protect the university's image -- the same allegations that are being made today at Penn State.

College safety experts say that incidents at both EMU and Penn State are emblematic of the insular way in which colleges handle sex crimes.

Brett Sokolow, a managing partner at National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, who has worked with hundreds of colleges to enhance student safety, was critical of EMU and Penn State, though he said they are "an anomaly not the rule."

"At Penn State loyalties were at play, like big-time football at the expense of other members of the community," said Sokolow.

"Sometimes it's based on fear that the information coming out will harm their reputation or hurt their endowment or recruitment," he said. "College admissions are keen to make sure their campuses don't get a reputation for being unsafe."

Campuses are required under Title IX to investigate all complaints and to provide "prompt and equitable remedies," according to Sokolow. "Colleges work hard to get a good internal resolution. But rape is not the same thing as pulling a fire alarm in a residence hall and some colleges do it better than others."

The other reason colleges handle sex crimes internally is that criminal prosecution is "not a viable option" for victims, most of whom are women.

"The conviction rate is less than 1 percent," he said. "Our society blames the victim and they populate the juries. A young woman goes into a guy's room drunk and all a jury sees is her bad behavior."

"It's easier in a case like Sandusky," he said. "When it's a homosexual attack, we condemn it." And, of course, the Sandusky allegations involve underage boys.

One in six American women will become a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime, according to the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network, and the college population is four times more likely to be victims than any other age group. An estimated 73 percent of all victims of these crimes know their attacker.

"That number is particularly relevant for college campuses in addressing issues of sexual violence," said RAINN spokesman Katherine Hull. "Recognizing the majority know each other and it's not always a stranger in the dark in a parking garage on campus, it is likely to be someone the victim knows, who lives in the same dorm or is the same social group or class or a friend of a friend."

Hull said it was "absolutely critical" that these crimes be treated with "adequate severity."

"These crimes cannot be handled internally by college police and judicial systems," she said. "They cannot be treated like an overdue library book."

When crimes like date rape and sexual assault between students do go to college judiciary courts, they often go unpunished, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity and funded by the Department of Justice.

College officials are confused over definitions of sexual offenses and the laws reporting provisions, according to the study.

"Available data suggests that, on many campuses, far more sexual offenses are occurring than are reflected in official Clery numbers," it said.

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