Sex Assault Reports at NY Colleges Spike Six-Fold Under New Policies

February 20, 2016 Updated: February 20, 2016

ALBANY, N.Y.—In nearly two years since New York colleges were told to adopt policies defining consensual sex and rights of rape victims, the number of schools under federal investigation for handling of sexual violence increased from four to 25.

That six-fold state increase even exceeded national numbers that showed a tripling of schools under such investigations to 164. Experts say the dramatic increases reflect better reporting rather than an actual uptick in sexual violence on college campuses.

Research suggests 42% of college students tell no one. And people who tell no one don’t do well. We wanted to increase supports.
— Carol Stenger, director, University at Albany's Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence

“Research suggests 42 percent of college students tell no one. And people who tell no one don’t do well. We wanted to increase supports,” said Carol Stenger, director of the University at Albany’s Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence, which opened two years ago. Alleged victims seeking help on campus have since increased from 23 to about 150 last year.

Critics argued that many U.S. colleges could hardly have been doing worse, for years hiding crimes behind federal privacy laws in an effort to publicly protect their brands.

The federal directive in April 2014 says that under Title IX, the civil rights law prohibiting gender-based discrimination, each school is required to designate a coordinator to oversee its response to sexual violence cases, train employees and immediately investigate possible cases. It specifically defined sexual violence in cases where someone doesn’t give consent or is incapable due to drugs or alcohol.

Chantelle Cleary, the university’s first full-time Title IX coordinator, appointed a year ago, added that the higher numbers show “campuses are doing a better job.”

New York’s directive, first issued to state schools in late 2014, was included in a new law covering all New York’s private colleges that Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in July. It requires telling all incoming freshman about sexual assault and the definition of consent. And the state directive specifically notes that consent can be withdrawn at any time.

Federal investigations of schools’ handling of sexual violence cases can be triggered by complaints from individuals or organizations. A small number are opened by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights based on data, news reports, public concerns and other reasons, a spokesman said. They have to be timely complaints that remain unresolved.

CUNY Hunter College, Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Sarah Lawrence remain on the Education Department’s list of schools with open sexual assault investigations.

They have been joined by Bard, Barnard, Canisius, Columbia, Cornell, Corning Community College, Elmira, Hamilton, New York University School of Medicine, Pace, Polytechnic Institute of NYU, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Skidmore, St. John’s University, Union, The Pratt Institute, the University of Rochester and the State University of New York schools at Albany, Stony Brook, Brockport, Purchase and Buffalo State College.