University report highlights sexual violence, drug & liquor offenses

Fourth Estate | October 27, 2014
by Niki Papadogiannakis

For 2013, the university reports a significant drop in liquor law and drug arrests as well as the highest number of forced sexual offenses reported to date.

Forcible sexual offenses, among other categories, are disclosed from the university in the Annual Security/Annual Fire Safety Report 2014, as required by the Clery Act for the 2013 calendar year.  Released late September, the Safety Report outlines crimes reported, including sex offenses, robbery and assault as well as liquor law, drug and weapons arrests and referrals.

Sexual violence, dating violence and stalking

In 2013, there were nine on-campus forcible sex offenses reported to the university in 2013, the highest since 2009, the earliest Clery Act report available online. In 2012 there were seven cases reported. Police also reported 12 cases of dating violence and 12 cases of stalking.

“What that number tells me is that victims are still not comfortable coming forward to report these crimes and that we as an institution have to work harder breaking down the barriers for reporting these types of crimes,” said Chief of Police Eric Heath.

A higher number of reported forcible sexual offenses is regarded as a positive sign by the University Police, University Life, Student Conduct and WAVES.

“I think if we’re successful you’ll see even higher numbers for 2014,” said Rose Pascarell, vice president of University Life.

For the first year, the report included crimes outlined in the Violence Against Women Act and Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act. VAWA crimes include domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.

“We do have stalking cases, we do have domestic violence cases and I think it’s important for folks to realize that Mason is a community of 34,000—42,000 when you think about faculty and staff,” Pascarell said. “We are a large town or a small city and everything that happens, happens here particularly when you’ve got people who are living on campus and so I think it just draws attention to the nuances in those numbers of sexual assault or interpersonal violence.”

Universities were asked to make a “good faith” effort for the VAWA crimes. The legislation signed in 2013 did not establish a specific and across the board definition of dating violence, domestic violence and stalking before beginning to compile Clery reportable data for 2013. The definitions will not be final until after November, according to Heath.

VAWA crimes are often under reported because, as WAVES director Mary Ann Sprouse noted, people are not yet comfortable reporting such crimes to the police, but choose a confidential report with WAVES or Counseling and Psychological Services.

“What has been typical over the last three years is that the number of dating violence, stalking, sexual violence, that’s been reported to the police has really been about 10% of the reports that we get in WAVES,” Pascarell said. “And so we use [the Security Report] as a point of comparison. I think we both learn from each other in terms of who the reports are that come informally to us first versus the reports that go directly to university police.”

Drug and liquor law arrests, referrals and other crimes

Drug arrests and liquor law arrests decreased by almost 50% in 2013 from 2012.

The Security Report cited 74 drug-related arrests at the Fairfax campus in 2013, compared to 154 arrests in 2012, and 70 liquor-related arrests, compared to 247 in 2012.

Heath said the change could be attributed to a number of reasons, one of which being the grant money from the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control given to University Police in 2012 no longer given to the department in 2013.

“With that funding there appeared to be more targeted enforcement and so the loss of that funding, which would provide for overtime funds and funds to allow for targeted missions, will almost certainly have an impact on the numbers,” Heath said in an email.

Heath said other factors include internal changes in police staffing levels, leadership—Heath became Chief of Police in June 2013— as well as influences by other parts of the university such as the alcohol education programs provided by WAVES.

There were 65 on-campus drug referrals in 2013, an increase from 42 in 2012 and liquor law referrals dropped to 403 for 2013 from 560 in 2012.

On-campus burglary dropped by more than 70%: 11 cases in 2013 compared to 39 cases in 201.

Additionally, police reported three cases of vandalism related to hate crimes, two weapons arrests, one weapons referral, three cases of arson, two cases of aggravated assault, one case of robbery and one case of non-forcible sexual offense.

“We continue to remain a safe environment especially when you consider the major Clery reportable crimes which includes a significant drop in serious property crime in 2013, specifically burglary,” Heath said.

The annual report promotes transparency for university police operations, as part of the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. It includes numbers for each category from on campus, student residences, on campus buildings and public property that was aggregated by the police department from all campus security authorities.

 Originally published to Fourth Estate

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