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Yeshiva U. Reports First Sexual Assault On Campus in 12 Years — But Says Little Else

For the first time in 12 years, Yeshiva University has reported a sexual assault on campus. Reporting such a crime might seem a breakthrough for the university, which has been accused of covering up abuse in the past, but the school still refuses to say how it investigates student allegations of sexual assault.

Nor will it discuss its notably low public tally of such assaults on campus.

According to reports that Y.U., like other universities, files annually with the U.S. Department of Education, the school has had only two sexual assaults on its campuses since 2001. The span includes a period of 10 years in which it reported no assaults at all.

The total absence of assaults over a decade contrasts with a broad national estimate by the White House Task Force to Protect Students From Sexual Assault that one in five women is assaulted while in college. Y.U.’s press office did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls asking about the issue.

The most recent incident was recorded in Y.U.’s 2013 campus crime survey, which was published October 1. It took place on the university’s Jack and Pearl Resnick Campus in the Bronx, home to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the same location where the earlier sexual assault, in 2002, occurred.

Campus sexual assault has become a national issue in the past year. In May, the Department of Education named 55 colleges and universities under investigation for failing to deal sufficiently with sexual assault and harassment cases. They included Princeton and Harvard universities and Dartmouth College.

According to Sarah McMahon, associate director of Rutgers University’s Center on Violence Against Women and Children, estimated figures for campus assault are often based on research studies conducted on residential campuses.

Y.U. has more than 6,400 undergraduate and graduate students spread across four campuses in New York City. Thousands do not live on campus.

McMahon said: “However, we know that sexual assault occurs in every community and therefore it is unlikely that any college campus would have no sexual assaults occurring.”

Though Y.U.’s crime reports to the U.S. Department of Education showed only two sexual assaults from 2001 through 2013, a report commissioned by Y.U. in 2013 suggests that the school has dealt with additional assault complaints.

Published by the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell, the report was produced in the wake of allegations, first revealed in the Forward, that during the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, Y.U. staff ignored and covered up complaints that rabbis physically and sexually abused students at its boys high school in Manhattan. Sullivan & Cromwell found that up until 2001, Y.U. failed to deal adequately with allegations of physical and sexual abuse not just at the high school, but “at other schools comprising the University as well.”

After 2001, the investigators found that “the University’s response to allegations of physical and sexual abuse… significantly improved. Indeed, with respect to all such allegations, the Investigative Team found that the University acted decisively to address the allegations and to ensure the safety of the University’s students.”

At the time, Y.U. refused to release details of the investigation’s findings pending a $680 million lawsuit brought by former students of Y.U.’s high school for boys.

That lawsuit was dismissed this past February, and an appeal was dismissed in September. Y.U.’s press office did not respond to a question asking whether the report’s findings will now be released.

Nor did the university’s representatives respond to questions about the assaults referenced in the Sullivan & Cromwell report and about why the assaults were not reflected in the university’s campus crime statistics.

Universities are mandated to report in their annual campus crime reports crimes perpetrated on or near their campus, including sexual assaults. But they often fail to log such crimes.

A recent joint investigation by The Columbus Dispatch and the Student Press Law Center found that schools across the country routinely misreport crimes. Some colleges are confused about reporting requirements. Other colleges misreport campus crime on purpose. Still others exploit loopholes in the law. For example, a sexual assault by one college student on another student that takes place in off-campus housing, even just a few blocks from campus, does not have to be reported in a school’s annual statistics.

At Y.U. this would include the private housing popular with male Y.U. students between 183rd Street and 190th Street, a few minutes’ walk from the Wilf campus. Current and former students of Stern College for Women said that this is where most undergraduate socializing between the sexes occurs, since the vast majority of students on campus live in single-sex dormitories and the university has strict policies forbidding members of the opposite sex from entering dorm rooms in its single-sex residence halls.

Of the almost 1,800 schools that the Dispatch and the SPLC investigated, half reported zero sexual assaults in any given year.

Donald Sommers, Y.U.’s head of security, is responsible for compiling the university’s campus crime survey at Y.U.’s three Manhattan campuses — Beren, Brookdale and Wilf — where Y.U. has not reported a single sexual assault in the years the Forward examined, 2001 through 2013. Sommers did not respond to calls or emails for comment.

Renee Coker, Y.U.’s Title IX coordinator who deals with complaints of abuse and who oversees relevant investigations, referred questions to Y.U.’s press office, which did not respond to inquiries.

During the first weeks of October, the Forward asked Y.U.’s representatives a range of questions via email, including:

How does Y.U. account for its low sexual assault numbers?

Is Y.U. aware of sexual assaults on students not reported in its campus crime statistics?

How many complaints of sexual assault do Y.U.’s counselors deal with in any given year?

Has Y.U. ever carried out an investigation into a student complaint of sexual assault?

When was the last time a Y.U. student was disciplined for sexual assault, and what, if any, sanctions were taken against the perpetrator?

Y.U.’s representatives did not respond.

Y.U.’s safety and security Web page does contain a detailed pamphlet on sexual assault available online. And Y.U.’s campus crime survey states that the university disseminates its anti-harassment policy and complaint procedures widely and that it mandates unlawful harassment training programs for students.

The report also states that all first-year undergraduate students are required to complete an e-Learning workshop titled “Lasting Choices: Protecting Our Campus From Sexual Assault.”

But one dozen current and former students at Y.U.’s Stern College told the Forward that they had never viewed the anti-assault workshop. And students were given no guidance as to what to do, or where to go in the case of sexual assault.

“I don’t recall ever getting anything,” said Guila Joseph, a senior at Stern College.

Many students seemed confused about whom to contact should they be assaulted. Most said that they would go to a resident adviser or a graduate adviser for guidance.

“I was most certainly unaware of the policy,” said Deena Klein, who graduated in 2010. “I was living in a bubble.”

Several Stern students said they were given a rape whistle at orientation. They also said that a brochure advertising Y.U.’s counseling center is available throughout the women’s dormitories. However, the brochure, which lists a host of services it provides for students, makes no mention of sexual assault.

Rutgers’ McMahon said information for how students can report abuse and where they can go for legal, medical and counseling support needs to be clearly communicated to students.

This story was updated on Tuesday, October, 21 to more accurately reflect Sarah McMahon’s views on college campus sexual assault statistics

Additional reporting by Rachel Delia Benaim.

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter, @pdberger

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