Paul Smith’s sees rise in rape reports

PAUL SMITHS — Paul Smith’s College’s annual crime statistics report shows a large jump in reported rapes over the past year, a fact that college officials believe points toward a rise in reporting rather than a rise in sexual assault.

With no on-campus rapes reported in 2014 and 2015, the jump to five reported rapes in the 2016 calendar year stands out in the college’s mostly blank sex offense report. The college’s Title IX coordinator Phil Fiacco said that just because there were no reports in the previous years does not mean there were no occurrences.

“It’s not actually an uptick in the number of sexual assaults that occur on campus; it’s an uptick in the number of reports,” Fiacco said. “To me it’s an indication that we’re actually doing things right and students are reporting cases to us where in the past they may not have said anything to us.”

As a result of these five reports, two students were dismissed from the college, one dropped out of the college before his hearing, and in another case, the alleged victim did not want to reveal details and identities to the college.

Two of the offenses were attributed to the same person, who was charged alongside one of the students who was found responsible and dismissed. He was also charged individually for another, separate incident that occurred on the same night.

The college’s vice president for student affairs and campus life, Terry Lindsay, said a mixture of youthful ignorance, alcohol and a sudden surge of independence creates situations where sexual assault is possible. He said Paul Smith’s main goal has been to educate all incoming students of the reality, definition and importance of reporting sexual assault on campus.

The college’s recent proactive approach has students take an online course to flesh out the gray areas between consent and assault, including factors such as alcohol and consciousness. While it may seem obvious, Fiacco said he has talked with students who did not know they had committed a sexual assault until they were told.

Colleges define sexual assault as any sexual act done without the consent of one person involved. These five cases, however, were rape, which by definition involves sexual intercourse without consent.

The first three alleged rapes took place on the same night in 2015 but were not reported to the college until 2016.

“Usually students don’t come forward initially because they don’t feel comfortable,” Lindsay said. “A jump like we had this previous year, when we didn’t have as much training prior to that, suggests to us that the training is making a difference.”

The college doesn’t report these incidents to police, and no criminal charges were pressed. Instead, all cases are given a hearing through the campus’ judicial affairs office, which is led by director of campus safety Holly Parker. She, and the other members of the office receive special training in investigating these situations using a “preponderance of evidence.” This means the chance of guilt is seen as greater than 50 percent. This level is a step below the more stringent U.S. criminal court standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

A guilty verdict in this campus process results in dismissal from the college, a significant mark on one’s academic record. When a student is dismissed or leaves the college before a hearing is held, the event remains on his or her permanent collegiate record and, though it does not impact their criminal record, can affect entrance into other schools.

Either side can appeal the decision based on a procedural error, if evidence that would change outcome arises or if the sanction is not commensurate with the offense.

Lindsay and Fiacco each stressed the effort the college puts into investigating every report and how they keep student safety at the forefront of their minds when hearing accusations.

“We want them to know that we believe them when they come to us,” Fiacco said.

(Clarification: The college would like to clarify that students reporting a rape have the option of reporting to state police, the college judicial board, both or neither.)

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