Editor's Note: This story includes mention of sexual violence.
The IU Police Department does not always list the locations of reported sexual assaults on its daily crime log.
This isn’t necessarily a problem.
Disclosing locations of reported sexual assaults can threaten the confidentiality of the survivor, and is most times unlikely to prevent future sexual assaults. Survivors should always be the focus of every policy regarding sexual assault.
One way university police departments protect students is by reporting information publicly in accordance with the Clery Act. These reports help raise awareness for sexual assault survivors, which is an important component of prevention efforts.
The Clery Act is a federal law that requires virtually all higher education institutions to disclose crimes on or around university property. According to IUPD’s website, there are factors that permit institutions to withhold details. For example, if disclosure would jeopardize the survivor’s confidentiality, an individual's safety or an ongoing criminal investigation, the organization may choose not to share that information.
IUPD sexual assault crime notices are sent out in communication with the reporting party, IUPD Deputy Chief Shannon Bunger told the IDS in an email.
Locations should never be withheld to protect fraternities, but they absolutely should be withheld to protect survivors.
The decision to withhold details is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, Lees said. This gives IUPD the ability to optimize protecting privacy and informing the community. However, it also requires faith that the officers are acting in students’ best interests.
“Our best practice is to not provide all of that information to help protect the identity of the survivor,” IUPD Chief Jill Lees said.
Non-specific location descriptions from the daily crime log such as “on-campus residential,” “all other campus buildings” and “all other fraternity/soro” give as much information to students as possible while still protecting the survivor’s privacy.
Other universities also have to balance transparency and confidentiality. The University of Illinois Police Department lists specific locations when available in its daily crime log, but not in mass crime notification emails, Patrick Wade, senior director of strategic communications for the UIPD, said in an email.
“If we include that information, then people who were in the vicinity of the sexual assault can start to piece together who was involved as a victim,” Wade said in the email. “Remember, also, that the offender and associates of the offender are usually receiving those timely warnings as well — so the likelihood is high that they could use that information to identify and retaliate against a survivor.”
Knowing the location of sexual assaults may not necessarily prevent further assaults. Eight out of ten rapes are committed by someone the victim knew, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
“The unfortunate reality is that sexual assault is rarely a location-specific crime,” Wade said in an email.
Additionally, it is important to remember what data is available, as most sexual assaults aren’t reported. The U.S. Department of Justice estimated only 33.9% of sexual assaults were reported to the police in 2019.
Reported sexual assaults have increased on campus over the past few years. In 2018, 13 sexual assaults were reported on the IU-Bloomington campus. Then, in 2019, 19 were reported with 22 later being reported in 2020.
Lees said these numbers may have increased not because cases of sexual assaults themselves are increasing, but because more people are comfortable reporting.
“We don’t want to hinder that,” Lees said.
Campus police protocols should be designed to encourage reporting and protect those who do — not disclosing specific addresses where sexual assault occurs is one way to do this.
“There can be a barrier to reporting if that individual is fearful about who is going to learn about this information,” Abigail Boyer, associate executive director of the Clery Center, said.
There are many other reasons survivors don’t report, such as feelings of guilt or shame and lack of faith that the perpetrator will be prosecuted.
A university’s daily crime log, which is meant to help protect students, should never become an additional barrier to reporting. Survivors should be able to report sexual assault without putting their privacy or safety on the line.
Allyson McBride (she/her) is a senior studying English and political science. She is the vice president for the College Democrats at IU and a nonfiction editor for “An Inkslinger's Observance”.