When DePaul freshman Madison Keys saw a notification a week and a half ago from Public Safety that a sexual assault was reported on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus, she started to question her own safety.
“It honestly just made me want to be more cautious and not walk anywhere without my roommate,” she said.
When told that this is only one of eight incidents of on-campus sexual offenses since August 2015 — one reported each month, with two in November and January — she was shocked.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Keys said. “I saw that alert, but that’s ridiculous.”
The eight sexual assaults recorded during the six-month span is more than the total number of assaults recorded in 2012 and 2013 combined, and only one less than the number of sexual assaults recorded by Public Safety in the entire year of 2014, when nine sexual offenses were recorded.
When a sexual assault is recorded, the alerts students receive about them vary due to the Clery Act, the federal act that requires universities to disclose information about crime on and near campus. It has been mandated for universities to follow since 1991.
Of the eight assaults recorded from August to November, the student body received alerts on three of them.
The other five offenses fall into circumstantial categories where Public Safety is not legally mandated to send out a safety alert.
“The first circumstance is if the offender is taken into custody and there’s no threat. The offender was identified right away, the offender was taken into custody, there was no ongoing threat,” Bob Wachowski, the Director of Public Safety, said. “Another is some of (the reports) that are reported happened a couple months ago, so as long as there’s not an ongoing threat to the community that is posed, then we would choose not to post it.”
One of the sexual assaults from November and another one in December fall under this last circumstance, in which a report is taken of a crime that happened months in the past, but alerts were not sent out. The assaults were reported to have taken place in March 2015 and October 2015 respectively.
When a crime is reported, Public Safety has decisions to make. They determine if the crime should be referred to the Chicago Police Department, if there is an ongoing threat to the DePaul community and if a safety alert should be sent out to notify faculty and students of the crime and furthermore the threat.
In cases where there is an ongoing threat because of a serious crime report, an alert will be sent; in cases where there is not, the crime will be documented in a daily crime log available at the Public Safety office, weekly in The DePaulia, and as a statistic in an annual Safety and Security Report available online.
When Public Safety sent out an alert on Jan. 14, which outlined an incident where a female reported that she was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance at Sanctuary Hall, the report scared Keys. Since an alert was sent out, it can be assumed that Public Safety determined that there was an ongoing threat to students, for a variety of reasons such as the accused was not yet identified, or not apprehended.
Students and faculty have received two similar alerts since just before the start of the school year — one in August and the other in November, both containing “sensitive information regarding a sexual assault,” as the notification at the top of the email reads.
To get those types of emails, the crime has to be considered a “Clery crime” — a crime that falls under the category of a criminal offense (murder, sex offenses, robbery, aggravated assault), a hate crime, or when there’s an arrest or referral for disciplinary action for carrying a weapon, drugs. Clery boundaries are not specified online, but can be imagined as a map that surrounds campus, including campus buildings and buildings and streets that students frequent.
“If it’s a Clery crime, and the individual is in our campus Clery boundaries, then we are required by federal mandate to post an alert,” Wachowski said. “We email every student, faculty and staff and we post them on the front doors of the buildings of the affected campus.”
The issue of sexual assault on campus has been at the forefront of the discussion of campus culture for a while now, from documentaries that canvass multiple schools to profiles of women who themselves have been assaulted. In a 2015 Association of American Universities survey of 150,000 college students at 27 different universities, 23 percent of female participants reported some form of unwanted sexual activity — from kissing to penetration — in college.
DePaul junior Trevor Kintyhtt, who was unaware of the eight reports that have been recorded since August, was not one who was surprised by this figure. He was somewhat surprised to learn, though, that Public Safety only alerted students of three of the eight reports.
“I think it is Public Safety’s job to let students know what’s going on because I think it’s the awareness that many students don’t have to prevent stuff like this,” he said. “There’s so many different resources as far as bystander training and I think that people don’t really notice how much those things matter until they know it’s happening.”
Public Safety will report a crime a few blocks outside of this boundary if they see necessary — for instance if a string of robberies took place on Dickens and Sheffield avenues, outside of Clery boundaries, but still relevant to students’ safety, Wachowski said.
Crimes that take place within these boundaries are crimes that Public Safety is required to consider sending an alert about if they determine there is an ongoing threat to student or faculty safety.
Though Women’s Center employee and DePaul senior Laura Springman said she is not sure whose job it should be to alert students of the crimes in which there is not a threat, she believes that it would lead to more awareness, and therefore safety, for students, even though these crime reports are publicly available already.
“Especially in regards to things like sexual assault, I think colleges and students that go to them often don’t want to admit that this is a problem that colleges face,” Springman said. “We like to think that it’s that scary thing that happens in an alleyway with someone you don’t know, that it’s this thing that you can push away from yourself and not interact with.”
“I think that discussing how prevalent it is on campus, how prevalent it is when it’s someone that you know, those facts, help people become more aware of the reality of these situations so that you can better understand them and deal with them in a more realistic way,” Springman said.
Dealing with crime in a safe and realistic way is a skill set that Wachowski said he hopes all DePaul students and faculty are or become equipped with.
“I think it’s really important, not only for being at a university, but being wherever you are in the world today — you should have your own personal plan and you should think about ‘If I was ever involved in a bad situation’ — it could be anything, a fire alarm, a robbery — have a personal plan of how you are going to survive, what you are going to do. We have to think of things like that,” he said.
For Keys, seeing the alert prompted her to take steps to prevent protect herself, such as walking with her roommate late at night instead of by herself. Instances like this suggest that these alerts prompt students to face the reality that crime happens on DePaul’s campus, and to plan accordingly — exactly as the Clery Act intended.
Springman said awareness of the prevalence of these reports, whether if it’s by students taking the liberty to find out themselves, or through campus-wide alerts, is the first step in pushing the DePaul community to the forefront of dealing with the issue of campus sexual assault.
“DePaul might be progressive in a lot of ways, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still have the same problems that other universities have,” she said. “I think that it’s important to remember that and understand that this is something that all colleges are facing. We need to deal with that.”