Oct 16, 2007

Rumors of rape on campus unfounded

by Jennifer Schmidt

    Rumors contending that multiple Liberty students had been raped on campus recently circulated throughout the Liberty student body. In response to the nature and swift spread of the rumors, Liberty administrators quickly informed students through various announcements that the rumors of rape were unsubstantiated.
    “I am glad we can say this did not happen, and if it did, we would tell the population,” said Mark Hine, Vice President of Student Affairs.
    Two forcible on-campus sex offenses have been reported to LUPD this semester. Both have been found to be true accusations. One offender was a non-student who has since been arrested and found guilty while the other has been dealt with administratively through the Office of Student Conduct.
    “We have had two cases of clearly inappropriate behavior this semester, but nothing remotely close to rape or attempted rape,” said Dr. Ronald Godwin, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer.
    Godwin continued to explain that “information was posted on the splash page within hours of those two events.”
    By definitions provided under the Clery Act of 1990, a forcible sex offense can include forcible rape, forcible sodomy, sexual assault with an object, or forcible fondling. Non-forcible sex offenses would include incest or statutory rape. A forcible sex offense is defined as “Any sexual act directed against another person, forcibly and/or against that person’s will; or not forcibly or against the person’s will where the victim is incapable of giving consent” (www.securityoncampus.org).
    Every institution of higher education, both public and private, is bound by the Clery Act to “disclose certain timely and annual information about campus crime and security policies” (www.securityoncampus.org).

    The Clery Act summary, posted on www.securityoncampus.org states, “The timely warning requirement is somewhat subjective and is only triggered when the school considers a crime to pose an ongoing ‘threat to students and employees.’” 
    “We want to get information out to Liberty University and the community within an hour if we have facts,” LUPD Chief Randall E.  Smith, Jr. said. 
    Defining the nature of timely information is a difficult task, especially in light of unproven reports, explained First Sergeant Richard D. Hinkley. If a sexual offense or rape is reported, police must first investigate to find if the report is factual.
    When a victim comes forward within 24 hours of an offense, rather than weeks or months, the validity of the report can be proven much more quickly. Also of concern with timely reports is the nature of an offense. Date rapes and incidents on non-campus property can complicate the type of information to be shared.
    “We are bound to warn and inform,” said Hine.
    If a rape is reported and proven, schools are required to share the time and location of the incident.
Hine described the urgency of an isolated on-campus rape perpetrated by a non-student as similar to that of a “five-alarm fire.” Hine said that information of that kind would be shared through student leadership on the residence halls, on the splash page, or in a mass e-mail.
    Universities are also required to annually publish statistical crime reports. As Hinkley explained, crime of any nature that is reported must be included in the published reports and, even if they are later found to be false allegations, they always remain on the permanent record. The Clery Act requires the providing of a public crime log recording any reported crimes – unsubstantiated or not.
    “We’ve obeyed that law to the letter,” said Godwin, concerning the Clery Act.
    “I have great trust in the professionalism of our police department. They are highly qualified and can document the truth,” said Godwin, who also pointed out the large distinction between a trained police force, which Liberty has, and a mere security force.
     While Godwin, Hine, and Chief Smith all lack an explanation for the origin or quick spread of the rumors, all agree that campus safety is a joint responsibility in the hands of both the school administration and individual students.
    “We are not guilty of not communicating with our students. Threats will be reported,” said Godwin.
    “Students have a personal obligation to pass information onto someone who can do something about the problem. To call the authorities is responsible citizenship. If they believe there is a threat, they need to send it where something can be done.”
    In the case of the recent rumors of rape, students did not effectively communicate doubts and concerns to the school administration.
    Hine first heard about the rumors of rape in an e-mail that he received from a male student attending Wheaton College.
    Dwayne Carson, Director of the Office of Student Leadership (OSL), first heard of the rumors of rape when he was approached by a male Resident Assistant (RA) on Sept. 25. Within the same hour, Carson was contacted by LUPD investigators who told him that they had received some calls about the same rumor, yet no reports had been filed. Later that afternoon, Carson polled RAs attending a previously scheduled meeting.
    “I asked how many RAs had heard any rumors about rapes on campus and over half of the room raised their hands,” said Carson.     “I then asked how many female RAs had students on their halls who were frightened for their safety, and many hands were still in the air.”
    “My immediate concern was what frame of mind our female students were in,” said Hine. “They don’t have to walk in terror, yet they have to have safety at the forefront of their minds. Safety should be a topic of general discussion. Don’t let your guard down.         Lynchburg is safe, but not that safe. It is the duty of leaders to keep safety before the people. Liberty is a great place, but it’s not utopia.” 
    “We want every student to understand that we’re here to promote safety, but we can’t promise it,” said Smith.
    Smith also cited the 2007 Crime Statistics and Safety brochure for stating that there are “many highly trained people working hard to provide a safe and secure campus.” The brochure further reads, “Remember that safety is a community responsibility.”
    “The stated objective of this office is to provide safety and security for the students,” said Carson, who added that when information regarding crime is shared with students, “the role of OSL would be to disseminate that information through student leadership in an orderly manner.”
    “We want to keep LU safe. We have a low tolerance for drugs and alcohol because they drive sexual assault through the roof. We want a sterling reputation...yet the school is more concerned with how bad it would be for our reputation if we kept things secret,” said Hine.

Contact Jennifer Schmidt at jschmidt@liberty.edu.

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