Va. Wesleyan hiding sexual assaults behind legal loophole

NORFOLK – A 13News Now investigation has found Virginia Wesleyan College using a loophole in a federal law designed to alert college students to crimes on campus to withhold information from daily crime logs.

A federal law known as the Clery Act requires colleges to track and report crime on campus. Under the law, schools are required to submit annual statistics about on-campus crime each October for the previous year and are also required to maintain a daily log of crimes with details on incidents that are reported to campus security and police.

“A public crime log is really important because at any given time, any individual in the community can request it, look at it–many schools have it online–and you can look at it and get a sense for how safe or not safe the campus is,” explained Laura Dunn, an attorney and advocate who founded the non-profit SurvJustice.

The requirements for crimes reported on the crime log differ than those on the annual report.

Under the law, a school’s annual report must include crimes reported to campus security and police, local law enforcement and anyone considered a campus security authority. The Clery Act includes a wide-ranging definition of “campus security authority,” which could include resident assistants, certain campus administrators and anyone else students consider an authority.

But schools only have to list crimes reported to campus security and police on their crime logs, which are designed to be a more immediate and more detailed list of crimes reported on campus.

Read: Clery Act expert, reporter answer questions about campus crime reporting

At Virginia Wesleyan, the slight difference in requirements for what schools must include on the two documents mean many incidents included with the broad numbers on the annual report are never listed in detail for students, staff and parents on the daily crime logs.

13News Now began digging into Virginia Wesleyan’s crime logs after a former student, who was raped on the third day of her freshman year, filed a lawsuit against the school accusing administrators of under-reporting sexual assaults on campus and failing to appropriately respond to students who are raped.

Late last week, the college responded by asking a judge to throw the lawsuit out. In a legal brief, attorneys for Virginia Wesleyan said the school does not have a legal duty to protect students from sexual assault. It also said negligence on the part of the student who was raped contributed to her attack.

The college reported a total of 14 sexual assaults on campus in its annual reports between 2010 and 2013. Only two of those 14 sexual assaults were included on the school’s daily crime logs.

A spokeswoman for Virginia Wesleyan said the school did not break any laws by not listing the 12 other sexual assaults in that time period on its daily crime laws because, she said, the crimes were never reported to campus security.

Laura Dunn, the victim’s advocate who sits on the federal Clery Act review committee, said the school is right about the law. But, she said, that doesn’t mean it’s best for students.

“If they can kind of hide that knowledge, they can also skirt their responsibility to keep students safe,” Dunn said.

Document: Virginia Wesleyan crime logs

Accusations that Virginia Wesleyan College purposely kept reports of sexual assaults away from campus security officers isn’t surprising to one woman who worked as the sexual assault response officer at the school for one year until she was fired in 2011.

“A lot of times, they didn’t call security when certain things happened. I think, a lot of times, they were more concerned about things getting out, so they tried to keep things under wraps for the most part,” the former security officer said.

The former security officer, who asked not to be identified by name out of fear of retaliation for speaking to 13News Now, said she was only called for one possible sexual assault in the year she worked on campus. That call was not ultimately investigated as a sexual assault.

“Not to say that I wanted [more assaults] to happen but it is a college campus,” she said. “I expected, you know, to have more than just one call.”

A spokeswoman for Virginia Wesleyan ignored three requests for an interview with college president William Greer to discuss his administration’s policy on handling sexual assaults that happen on campus.

Instead, a 13News Now reporter had to track Greer down off campus.

Greer refused to answer any specific questions about why Virginia Wesleyan does not require all sexual assaults that are reported to administrators to also be reported to campus security.

“If a student reports a rape to a school official, why isn’t Virginia Wesleyan putting that on your crime log? Why aren’t you calling police?” Greer was asked. “I, I think it’s important that we be patient,” Greer responded. “Patient with the entire system, everything.”

After Greer’s refusal to answer questions on-camera, an attorney for Virginia Wesleyan emailed a statement saying the school would not answer questions about how sexual assaults are handled on campus because of the pending lawsuit.

The former Virginia Wesleyan security guard, who was called only one time in the year she worked as the college’s sexual assault response officer, hopes the school implements changes.

“To think that something like that was going on on campus and no one was notified and no one came out to help or see how these people were doing, that’s sad,” she said. “That’s what I was there for.”