Incident highlights importance of Clery Act

After University of Tampa officials had failed to notify students and the student newspaper about a rape reported on campus, the university is reviewing its crime reporting procedures to ensure they are in accordance with federal statutes.

No campus crime alerts were issued after the alleged rape was reported to police on Jan. 27, and the incident was not included in the university’s campus crime log sent to The Minaret, the University of Tampa’s student newspaper.

Victor O’Brien, editor in chief of The Minaret, said a flyer was posted in each dormitory on campus four days after police learned of the rape, but the newspaper and other students on campus did not learn of the crime until Feb. 9, nearly two weeks after the incident was first reported.

O’Brien said the rape was initially reported as a less serious crime.

“We checked the police logs and it was posted as sexual assault instead of sexual battery,” he said. “They sent us that and we kind of trusted them to be accurate.”

University officials said they did not initially report a campus security alert because of the possibility the incident was a date rape, although they admitted the crime was not reported in a timely enough fashion, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Dean of Students Robert Ruday defended the university’s position in a message sent to all campus e-mail addresses.

“The primary question for authorities on the scene after they secured the safety of the victim was to decide if there was a continuing danger to the campus at large,” the e-mail said. “In this particular instance, the university followed what we believed to be appropriate protocols and fully cooperated with local law enforcement.”

O’Brien said that students needed to know about the incident soon after it was reported.

“They didn’t want to make a situation with mass hysteria, but we should have known and women should have known to watch out,” he said.

The federal Jeanne Clery Act requires both public and private colleges and universities nationwide to issue crime alerts in a timely manner when major crimes — such as rapes — are reported.

The U.S Dept. of Education sent an e-mail inquiry to the university about how the crime was reported after Security on Campus, a non-profit Clery Act advocacy organization, sent an e-mail to the university and the Department of Education about the situation.

Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, said regardless of whether the incident was a date rape, the University of Tampa officials failed to comply with the Clery Act, which requires all colleges and universities disclose crimes reported on campus.

“An institution can not fully comply with Clery by having the default position, as you say UT does, that timely warnings will never be issued in an acquaintance rape case,” Carter wrote in an e-mail to Donaldson.

The alleged rape occurred after a man accompanied an intoxicated University of Tampa student back to her dorm room. The man grabbed his clothes and fled the student’s room when another student showed up. Security cameras captured the man’s blurry image when he left and the woman reported the incident to police soon afterward.

During a telephone interview, Carter said timely crime warnings are “important because it is the thing that will allow students to empower themselves” against crime.

Under the Clery Act, university officials should have issued a campus security alert within hours of the incident being reported, Carter said. He said even though the suspected rapist remains at large, the university still has not issued an official crime alert, which is generally provided via e-mail or with flyers posted on campus.

“At this point, it probably wouldn’t make much sense, given how far out it is and the information is well known,” Carter said.

O’Brien said university officials are reviewing the university’s crime alert notification methods with help from Security on Campus and the U.S. Department of Education. The Dean of Students Office was to provide a report about disclosing campus security information to the university president by March 30, but that deadline has been extended until May 30.

O’Brien said the university has more readily reported crimes with fliers on campus since the incident — after another rape occurred on campus and following a report of a person seen allegedly carrying a gun on campus.

“I’m not sure if it was their own definite effort to keep it secret but I do think that they [now] realize that they have to notify people,” O’Brien said.

Carter also said student journalists should check crime reports in person rather than rely on summaries or reports sent to local media by campus security or police.

O’Brien said Minaret reporters have started checking the campus police log themselves, in addition to relying on the e-mailed reports.