Off-campus sexual assaults not allowed to be reported

Suffolk University released its 2014 Annual Security and Fire Safety Report on Sept. 30. Though the report released information on sexual assault instances on campus, the Clery Act does not allow certain off-campus incidents to be reported, officials said.

Inside the report, there were no on-campus sexual assaults reported in 2013, 2012, or 2011. In 2010, there were two, officials said.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities to report all forms of sexual assault, but not those which occur off-campus. If a Suffolk student is sexually assaulted off-campus by another student, meaning not in the dormitories, this is not allowed to be reported in the Clery Act, according to officials.

Even so, if there is an incident of sexual assault off campus, Suffolk will typically hold an investigation on campus as well, said Senior Associate Dean of Students Dr. Ann Coyne.

One such incident happened in 2013.

“I received a report about an incident that occurred in 2013, which is not yet reported through Clery,” Coyne said when referring to an alleged case that happened between two Suffolk students off-campus. Coyne is the deputy Title IX Coordinator for the College of Arts and Sciences and Sawyer Business School.

“We did not have information and deferred to the wishes of the student,” said Coyne. In this case, the student did not wish to identify the alleged attacker’s name and authorities at Suffolk were not able to conduct an investigation, she said.

“We made sure that the survivor was fully informed about all medical, emotional, and academic resources, and other interim measures … I also informed the student about on- and off-campus law enforcement and disciplinary options,” Coyne said.

Suffolk University has had a relatively low number of on-campus sexual assaults when compared to reports from other schools in the area.

In a previous interview with The Suffolk Journal, chief of the Suffolk University Police Department said one factor to the low amount of reported assaults is due to the small percentage of students the university houses.

“Certainly the number of students that we house … that probably is a factor,” Chief Gerard Coletta said.

Dean Coyne, in her interview with The Suffolk Journal, discussed how Suffolk handles sexual assault cases, from the cross-training of a response team, to analyzing each case.

Suffolk’s policy states, “For consent to be valid, there must be an exchange of mutually understandable words or actions between participants to a sexual interaction.”

The policy can be found on Suffolk’s website.

“It’s case-by-case, and it has to be understood by both parties … Both participants must understand that that is what people are agreeing to,” she said. “It could be a verbal understandable word or action.”

On or off-campus, when a student or employee is sexually assaulted at Suffolk, they can report to who they feel most comfortable. In terms of alerting law enforcement, Coyne said it’s best for Suffolk students to alert SUPD if it’s on-campus or the Boston Police Department if the incident occurred off-campus.

“Our goal is to have students report this so that they can get help and get assistance and learn about what options are available to them, so that they can get power back, they can get control of their lives, and they can make educated decisions for themselves,” said Coyne.

The victim can report an assault through an administrator, a parent, or a friend. The whole process is driven by the comfort level of the survivor.

“Here at the university, we have cross-trained a number of resources on campus so the survivor is hearing a consistent message,” Coyne said.  “If the person came to me I would go through all of the different resources we can provide  assist them in dealing with the trauma. If a person went to SUPD and reported, SUPD would talk about the same things that I could talk about. If they went to an RA, it would be the same.”

The victim has the option to decide whether or not he or she wants to pursue an investigation.  If the victim does, the university then contacts all parties involved and holds a hearing, Coyne said. When assessing the case, Suffolk policy states that there must be a “preponderance of evidence.” This means there must be a certainty of more than 50 percent to determine guilt of the alleged perpetrator.

“It’s a matter of assessing the information, the credibility, looking for discrepancies about what someone is saying about how an act is carried out. There’s a standard of what we use to determine whether or not someone is responsible. Title IX requires us to use preponderance of the evidence,” said Coyne.

According to Suffolk’s website, the response team is made up of Title IX and Deputy Title IX officers, dean and senior associate deans of students for CAS and SBS, which includes Coyne, dean of students for the law school, chief human resources officer, chief of SUPD, director of the counseling, health and wellness center, and a university risk manager.

Coyne identified Associate Dean of Students Elizabeth Ching-Bush, Assistant Dean of Students John Silveria, and Director of Residence Life Roderick Waters as the acting hearing officers during a sexual assault trial.

She said the response team is more of an advisory team that looks at incidents to see if there is a pattern of sexual assaults on campus.

The sexual assault policy encourages students and employees to intervene or interrupt sexual misconduct, if it is safe to do so. Suffolk offers training on bystander education, as well as a rape aggression defense program, and trainings and workshops on interpersonal violence and sexual misconduct.