The unspoken trauma of the Clery Act

Mandatory reporting puts survivors’ agency at risk

294e4ad9-0386-47c9-9350-ea482ac767d9.original

The Office for Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, which oversees Title IX coordination at the University, is located in Hotel B on the East Range.

Christina Anton | Cavalier Daily

The world of higher education is grappling with how to prevent and prosecute sexual assault on campuses. Two federal laws currently exist to protect individuals against discrimination on the basis of sex — Title IX — and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, which mandates that universities remain transparent about their crime statistics. While both laws intend to protect and empower survivors of violent crime, specifically survivors of sexual assault, the Clery Act has the potential to harm survivors. 

We applaud legislation that seeks to serve survivors, but also acknowledge that the Clery Act can place survivors at risk of having their trauma become public knowledge without their consent. Because of responsible employees’ duty to report these incidents, there needs to be an examination of survivors’ agency to report — or not report — in the delicate personal-legal web that occurs when sexual trauma happens on Grounds.

The Clery Act came into being due to the the monstrosities that occurred to Jeanne Clery at Lehigh University. During Jeanne’s freshman year at Lehigh, she was raped and murdered in her dorm room in 1986 by fellow student Josoph Henry. After her death, Clery’s parents questioned why the school was unaware that Henry had a history of disciplinary issues and allowed him to enroll at their institution — placing other students at risk. In addition to a 25 million dollar lawsuit filed against Lehigh, Clery’s parents launched a national campaign to enact the Clery Act.

While supporters of the Clery Act have touted the creation of a “culture of transparency and support” on college campuses, other ramifications of the act remain troubling. For one, the system of reporting places power outside of survivors’ control. Under the Clery Act, an individual employed by a university — excluding confidential employees — must report any information pertaining to an act of violence accounted for in the Clery Act. 

The issue of agency arises when survivors confide in a responsible employee without knowing the consequences of their conversation — their personal trauma becomes public knowledge through mandatory reporting, an element of university employee contracts. In practice, it is exceedingly difficult for a survivor to identify responsible employees. A survivor’s Resident Advisor or professor could be desirable confidants, but sharing information of trauma directly leads to reporting. In some cases, this triggers a “timely alert” or “community alert” that broadcasts personal information of a survivor to the entire University community — a useful warning for other students, but a reiteration of personal trauma for the survivor.

The Clery Act is a well-intentioned law — it was born out of rightful outrage. The implications of its policy, however, minimize the individual’s painful experiences at the cost of elevating crime statistics. While federal oversight of campus crimes safeguards students against negligent universities, we encourage a greater dialogue on educating students and faculty on the nature of personal privacy on Grounds. As a University, we must empower survivors of assault to understand their options following a horrible event. We also have to ensure that the same resources designed to protect students do not become their next source of trauma.

The Cavalier Daily Editorial Board is composed of the executive editor, the editor in chief and three at-large members of the paper. The board can be reached at eb@cavalierdaily.com.



related stories