To colleges and universities nationwide, image is everything. However, Howard Robboy, assistant professor of sociology, knows that college campuses aren’t as picture perfect as they appear in their view books and he’s speaking out about it.
Since he learned that colleges often try to conceal incidents of rape and sexual assault about five years ago, Robboy has dedicated himself to bringing these crimes to light across America.
Robboy is on the board of directors of Security on Campus, Inc., (SOC), a nonprofit organization founded by the parents of Jeanne Clery, a freshman at Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University who was beaten, raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986.
If students do not know about the crimes on their campus, they cannot take precautions, Robboy said, citing the importance of accurately reporting statistics.
A 2001 study by the U.S. Department of Justice reveals that over the course of a five-year college career, the percentage of women who are victims of either completed or attempted rape can reach between 20 percent and 25 percent. Nine out of 10 women also know their offender, according to the study.
Robboy and SOC are cracking down on campuses that violate the Campus Security Act, also known as the Jeanne Clery Act, which is a federal law that requires institutions of higher education to disclose crime statistics to the campus and surrounding areas.
In compliance with this mandate, the College released its crime statistics on Oct. 1 and alerted the campus community of the release by e-mail. The Annual Campus Security Report can be viewed online and hard copies are available at the Brower Student Center Information Desk and other on-campus location.
At the College, there were eight forcible sex offenses on campus in 2003, six of which occurred in residential facilities, according to the report. In 2002 and 2001, there were only two forcible sex offenses on campus.
Regarding the increase, Ray Nesci, professional services specialist for Campus Police Services, said “While it is impossible to definitely state exactly why the occurrence of certain crimes or referrals increased or decreased, I feel it is due to increased education and positive relations with the campus community.”
Robboy said that he is skeptical of schools that do not report any rapes. “There is no safe school because crime’s going to occur anywhere,” he said. “The issue is being a responsible college,” he said, defining a “responsible college” to be one that will bring justice to victims of sexual crimes, not discourage them from coming forward.
Robboy said, in his opinion, the College is far ahead of most other colleges in making changes to help victims and educate the student body on sexual assaults and rape. “My hat’s off to them,” he said.
Some of the services the College provides include the newly created Office of Anti-Violence Initiatives, a Sexual Assault Task Force and the student-run Women’s Center, which is located in the basement of Brower Student Center.
However, in 2000, the U.S. Department of Education accused the College of not reporting three sexual assault cases from the 1996-1997 academic year in the Annual Campus Security Report.
In her response to the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation, President R. Barbara Gitenstein wrote that the errors “were not intentional attempts to hide crimes, but rather honest mistakes that resulted from inconsistent record-keeping and high staff turnover,” referring to leadership changes in Campus Police.
Robboy wants to make sure that campuses across the country adhere to the Clery Act accurately and in a timely fashion. He’s paid particularly close attention to Penn State University (PSU), which he said has failed to properly investigate sexual assault cases.
Robboy explained that when he heard a female PSU student was allegedly raped by a wrestler in 1999 and the administration was not helping her press charges, he decided to get involved.
According to the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes (NCAVA) Web site, many institutions of higher education have a “system that protects athletes and vilifies victims.” Robboy said at Division I schools, the greater percentage of rapists are athletes.
This is backed up by a study by investigative journalist Jeff Benedict and University of Massachusetts sports management professor Todd Crosset found that one in three college sexual assaults are committed by athletes.
“I think that it has to be postulated why that is with athletes and what do you do to stop that,” Kevin McHugh, athletic director at the College, said. “I just know in general that it continues to be a problem in society and it’s incumbent for us to address it with our student athletes.”
At the College, McHugh said athletes are required to attend sexual assault programs annually.
In addition to offering educational programs, Robboy emphasized that colleges need to be stopped from blocking victims from coming forward to protect their image or athletic program.
“This all starts at the top,” Robboy said, explaining that at some schools, police officers and guidance counselors brush off victims because they are ordered to do so by the higher administration.
Robboy considers the silencing of victims of sexual crime a parallel to the civil rights movement.
“Something’s going to happen nationally,” Robboy said, predicting that the scandals involving rapes on college campuses will soon be exposed in the mainstream media.
“When this gets out,” he said, referring to how schools exploit the stigma against rape to minimize their crime statistics, “women from different parts of the country are going to come forward and this whole thing is going to blow open.”