Universities are worlds unto themselves, and they conduct their own investigations into alleged sexual assaults on campus. After Thursday’s news that two Boise State University football players were expelled and one was suspended from school for a year following a sexual assault investigation, we try to answer some common questions.
Q: Why don’t the players face criminal charges?
Because the Boise Police Department never got a report about any of the alleged assaults against a female BSU student that were part of the school’s Title IX probe. Thus, no current investigations exist involving Marquis Hendrix, Donzale Roddie and Darreon Jackson, the department confirmed Thursday.
It would have been up to the alleged victim to file a report with police.
Family members of the three football players maintain their sons’ innocence, and Hendrix and Roddie denied wrongdoing to Boise State’s investigators.
Q: But isn’t there a law requiring universities to report alleged sexual assaults?
Not in Idaho.
When a student discloses a sexual assault to Boise State officials, that information is not shared with the police. It is the victim’s decision whether the crime is ever reported to police. One exception to that general rule is if there’s concern about a current threat to general public safety.
University investigators talk to victims about the process of reporting to police. They also offer to take them to a police station or bring detectives to them, Boise State spokesman Greg Hahn said.
There’s national debate about whether universities should be required to report alleged sexual assaults to police. In 2014, California began requiring colleges and universities to report violent crimes to police, including sexual assault.
Other states have been considering similar laws, and federal legislation has been proposed. The reporting requirement has been met with strong opposition by some victims advocates, who fear it actually will further deter victims from coming forward.
Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes: An estimated 80 percent of all campus rapes and other sexual misconduct in the United States go unreported to law enforcement, according to 2013 reports on a study by the National Research Council.
Many universities have designated people for confidential reporting, allowing an assault victim to get help without having to make a decision about notifying school authorities or the police. For example, all conversations with staff at Boise State’s Gender Equity Center (formerly the women’s center) are private and confidential.
“Confidentiality is so important,” center director Adriane Bang told the Statesman last year. “There has to be a safe place for people to go.”
Q: How many investigations are there into campus assaults?
In some cases, university students accused of sexual assault are subject to twin investigations — one by the university, the other by police.
Those have different objectives: University officials try to determine whether student conduct rules or other policies were violated, while police obviously look at whether a crime was committed.
Boise State’s investigators interview the parties separately (they are allowed to bring an attorney or other support person with them). They gather facts, talk to witnesses, and provide the main parties with an investigation report and an opportunity to respond before deciding whether there was a violation of university policy.
The parties have the opportunity to review reports and provide feedback multiple times before they are finalized, Hahn said. They also may meet with university officials as often as they feel necessary during the investigation.
Recommendations for sanctions go to the student conduct authority or other appropriate department or person, such as a dean or human resources.
Universities don’t have to wait for police to investigate to take their own actions and impose penalties. University decisions are based on “a preponderance of evidence,” a much lower standard than used in the criminal justice system.
School officials try to move quickly to ensure that assault victims feel safe on campus. They may alter living arrangements and/or class schedules, impose a school-based no-contact order, or have the accused removed from campus and/or expelled. In the case of these three football players, Boise State did all of those things, according to case documents obtained by the Statesman.
If the suspect is not a student, the university may issue a notice of exclusion, which then allows a trespassing charge.
Some critics say universities have gone so far trying to support victims that they’re ignoring the rights of the accused. Since 2011, dozens of men who feel they were treated unfairly after accusations of sexual assault have filed lawsuits.
Q: Is anyone tracking crimes on campuses?
The Clery Act, enacted in 1990, requires universities that participate in federal student aid programs to disclose campus safety information, including sexual assault statistics. The law was named for Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old who was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm room in 1986.
Universities must report incidents that happen on campus, adjacent properties and university-controlled properties — but not what occurs in houses or apartments a couple of blocks from campus.
“The actual effect is going to be much larger than the numbers reflect. It allows people to downplay the problem,” Boise State Title IX Compliance Director Annie Kerrick said last year.
Q: Is any of this data readily available to the public?
Yes, universities publish crime logs online. The information includes dates, locations, police report numbers and whether the cases have been resolved.
There have been at least eight rapes reported at Boise State this year, according to the university’s online crime log. Police reports are not available for any of those cases, the log says, but they are available for sex crimes reported in 2015 and previous years.
Q: What can be done to make campuses safer?
Federal officials think universities can do better. There’s been a push in recent years to do more to prevent sexual assault on campuses — and to hold perpetrators accountable.
The Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which took effect July 1, 2015, requires schools to have prevention programs in place for students and employees. It also mandates clearly communicated protocols for handling sexual assault incidents.