Campus insecurity: An examination of crime and punishment on U.S. college campuses

The stories below are part of an ongoing series — in collaboration with The Columbus Dispatch — to examine crime and punishment on college campuses across the country.

Few rights for either side in college judicial procedures

When campus judicial systems take on cases involving violence — and there are hundreds each year — the odds can work against both victims and the accused.

Guilty or not, students typically face complex bureaucracies that make it difficult to defend themselves and respond to serious allegations.

Students easily transfer after violent offenses

Students found responsible for violent offenses, often for sexual assault, are able to transfer with ease to other universities.

Using disciplinary records collected from 25 public universities across the United States, including Ohio, reporters were able to identify some students, mostly high-profile athletes, who transferred after being punished. But officials and experts familiar with campus judicial boards say the cases represent a small fraction of transfer students who were accused of or disciplined for serious offenses.

College disciplinary boards impose slight penalties for serious crimes

Colleges across the country use campus disciplinary boards to pass judgment on students accused of violent crimes, including rape and assault. Sometimes, schools handle crime and punishment without ever reporting violations to police. Most cases never go to court.

Campus judicial systems, operating in secret, often impose light sanctions for serious infractions: sexual assaults, physical assaults resulting in serious injuries, robberies and other violent crimes. Some of the punishment amounts to little more than writing a paper.

Both victims and the students accused of these violations have said the system is unfair and broken.

Reports on college crime are deceptively inaccurate

The crime statistics being released by colleges nationwide on Wednesday are so misleading that they give students and parents a false sense of security.

Even the U.S. Department of Education official who oversees compliance with a federal law requiring that the statistics be posted on Oct. 1 each year admits that they are inaccurate. Jim Moore said that a vast majority of schools comply with the law but some purposely underreport crimes to protect their images; others have made honest mistakes in attempting to comply.

In addition, weaknesses in the law allow for thousands of off-campus crimes involving students to go unreported, and the Education Department does little to monitor or enforce compliance with the law — even when colleges report numbers that seem questionable.

Colleges handle sexual assaults inadequately, senators told

Colleges are not equipped to handle allegations of sexual assault on their own and should routinely work with local police to investigate criminal complaints, one expert told a Senate committee Tuesday.

Too often, colleges operate in a vacuum and “act as judge and jury” in cases involving serious crimes, said Peg Langhammer, the head of Day One, a Rhode Island-based sexual-assault-resource center. More frequent collaboration with law enforcement would help to define what campuses should handle, Langhammer said.

“They tend to replace any effective reporting or investigation or prosecution on the criminal side,” she said. “The most that might happen is an individual might be suspended or even expelled, but then (they are) free to go to another institution.”

Deceptive crime stats

Search the database of crime statistics at U.S. colleges.