In a small office on the eighth floor of Academic Hall at Point Park University (PPU), Title IX Coordinator Elizabeth Rosemeyer sat alone scheduling programming events.
Papers lined her desk in organized piles, and cardboard boxes towered along the walls containing posters, signs, and goodie bags for upcoming events, many of which she had planned in painstaking detail. She was the only member of this office, and it was her responsibility to spearhead its involvement in various campus-wide sexual violence prevention events. She had to order food, choose the tablecloths, and even put fun stickers on hundreds of bags of “pirate booty” for the Condom Carnival, an annual event hosted by the Campus Activities Board to promote safe sex and sexual education.
Rosemeyer, who now serves as the Title IX Coordinator at Carnegie Mellon University, spent over four years working at PPU. She was responsible for conducting investigations when a person reported allegations of sexual misconduct and for working with different PPU departments to create the public annual security report also known as the Clery report.
While PPU, located in downtown Pittsburgh, has about 4,000 enrolled students, Rosemeyer estimated that only five to seven complaints passed through the Title IX Office. She said of those, only about two would be reflected in the public report that is available for potential new students and their families.
Just a 10-minute drive away to the neighborhood of Oakland, Katie Pope of the University of Pittsburgh’s Title IX Office is dealing with many more students. Including all of the branch campuses, the University of Pittsburgh accounted for over 28,000 enrolled students — seven times that of PPU.
A large round table with several chairs dominates her office space, and in addition to a standing desk, a few six-inch figurines including one of Darth Vader decorate the room.
Sitting at this round table, Pope said she saw the same issue as Rosemeyer at PPU. Though she deals with more students, few complaints make it into the official report. While this frustrates her, she said the reason behind it is simple.
“The only time something gets reported to Clery is if it happens on school property,” Pope said. “So, if a student gets raped at Pete’s Pub, that’s not going to get reported to Clery because it’s not campus property. So the numbers you see through Clery are going to be significantly lower on any campus.”
Rosemeyer agreed. She said these numbers are not as accurate as they could be because they are specific to campus boundaries, and although it is important to know these figures, she said it’s also necessary to find out what students are actually experiencing in order to address it.
“If 75 percent of what the Title IX Office is doing is related to incidents that are not on your campus, that’s not reflected in the Clery report. So it seems like either, ‘Oh sexual assault really isn’t an issue with our students because, look, only two this year.’ Or more often what happens is, ‘Oh, we know it’s an issue, but this number is so low so they must be hiding things or students must not be reporting them.’ It gives an inaccurate perception,” she said.
The Clery Act was signed into law in 1990 with the hopes of bringing more clarity to campus safety. It requires any college or university that receives federal funding to disclose campus crime statistics to the public once a year. Although the Act was signed almost three decades ago, it was most recently amended in 2013 by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which requires colleges to also collect data on domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking.
In 2010, as part of the 20th anniversary of the Clery Act, Congress passed a resolution recognizing some of the law’s progress including a 9% drop in violent crime rates on campus and a 30% drop in property crimes.
However, only four years later, the Obama Administration released a report which found that about 20% of women are sexually assaulted in college.
This story found that, in the Pittsburgh area, Clery statistics don’t always capture the realities of campus sexual assault and misconduct for potential students because the reporting guidelines are too specific, survivors don’t’ want to come forward with their stories, and the cost of complying is too high for universities to take on.
In April of 1986, tragedy rocked the small town of Bethlehem, Pa. Josoph Henry gained entry into Lehigh University’s campus after three doors were propped open in one of the school’s dormitories. He encountered Jeanne Clery’s room and proceeded to rob, beat, rape, and murder her. She had just returned to school from spring break five days earlier.
Reeling from the loss of their daughter, the Clery family sued the university for neglecting to inform students and parents of the increased crime rates on campus — 38 violent crimes had occurred within the prior three years including robbery, rape, and assault. The Clery family said they chose Lehigh University because it seemed like a safer option compared to the other college Jeanne was interested in, where a coed had been murdered off-campus. They believe that had they known about the crime rates, they would have never sent their daughter to Lehigh.
The idea of more transparency in campus crime rates became a movement, and from that movement came a federal response. The Clery Act was signed into law just four years after Jeanne’s murder.
It requires a campus safety report to be released annually which covers sexual harassment and assault among other campus crime statistics. Oftentimes, this report is put together by the Title IX Office of a university in conjunction with the school’s campus safety department.
Title IX offices were not always so focused on sexual assault and misconduct, though. At first, departments concentrated mainly on prohibiting gender discrimination in athletic, academic, and educational programs.
“[Title IX] was not created to make athletics equal; it was created to make education equal,” Rosemeyer said. “In 2011, when they put out the new ‘Dear Colleague’ Letter, that really emphasized that sexual harassment and sexual assault were forms of gender discrimination. That’s when some of the emphasis started to change on campuses.”
In that letter, the Obama Administration’s Department of Education along with the Office of Civil Rights, found that “sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination.” It put the burden on colleges and universities to take immediate steps to end sexual violence and harassment.
According to Pope, this means Title IX departments are dealing with two different federal mandates, and not all complaints that come through the Title IX Office have to be reported through Clery. She said an incident has to fall within certain geographical restrictions and line up with specific crimes listed in the federal criminal code.
The “Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting” says the Clery Act requires institutions to disclose statistics based on:
• Where the crimes occurred
• To whom the crimes were reported
• The types of crimes that were reported
• The year in which the crimes were reported
Pope explained the law does cover violations that occur far away from the main campus like branch or study abroad campuses, though it might exclude areas that are frequented by students and are near the main campus but not actually owned by the university.
“If one of our students is sexually assaulted in an Uber down in Southside, that’s not going to be reported through Clery,” she said.
In practice, there are many points in the system at which an incident may fall through the cracks. It can look like this: A student is assaulted at a fraternity party. She discloses her assault to a friend who recognizes it must be reported. The friend tells her resident assistant, or another campus leader, about the incident. The RA knows she has to inform her director or other department head. The director must recognize that although the assault occurred off-campus, the location is still considered non-campus property (meaning it is property controlled by a university-recognized student organization) and as such qualifies as a Clery violation. The complaint must then be logged and sent to the school’s public safety department responsible for compiling these statistics.
In a process like this one, smaller campuses might benefit. Colleen Ruefle works as the Title IX Coordinator as well as the Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students at La Roche College, a smaller university located 25 minutes from Point Park and the University of Pittsburgh. La Roche has about 1,500 enrolled students.
Ruefle said reporting Clery statistics for fewer students could mean fewer complaints and fewer people involved in the reporting of each of those incidents.
“I know how I [report Clery], and I think it’s beneficial for me because I have a very closed-off campus,” she said. “Although we do offer classes in Cranberry and we offer classes in Squirrel Hill, for the most part, what we do is here. So it makes our reporting and data gathering easier than probably somewhere like Pitt.”
The greater Pittsburgh area has over 40 non-profit colleges, and according to the Title IX coordinators we spoke with, they can share a sense of camaraderie. They get together around three times per year to discuss new initiatives and collaborations.
Having this relationship has proved beneficial in reporting and investigating sexual assaults and misconduct incidents that span multiple universities.
“There is a benefit in the sense that if I have a student who was assaulted by a Pitt student in Oakland, I can work with Pitt, and we can use their student conduct processes. We both use police departments, whether it’s Pitt’s police or the city police. We can still serve both students and hold students accountable to the same degree,” Rosemeyer said.
In addition to working with each other, Title IX coordinators also work closely with their respective school’s police department. As part of the Clery Act, campus police or security departments must disclose a daily log of alleged criminal incidents. These statistics are also used to compile the Clery report.
Communications Sergeant Michael Mock performs this role at the University of Pittsburgh Police Department. He first started with the department in 2005 and got involved with the process of Clery reporting in 2010.
He said that at its core the specificity required from the Clery Act helps in reporting sexual assault and misconduct, and at the point in the process in which he is involved, he saw no difference between the reported crimes and what was occurring on campus.
“I can’t say that one hundred percent. With Clery reporting, we’re relying on other jurisdictions. We’re an urban campus within the city of Pittsburgh. I don’t want to say that there is a skew of relationship between the report and what’s happening,” he said.
Mock said police departments can only do so much with the information they’re given when putting together the annual Clery report. Sometimes the discrepancy between what happens on campus and what ends up on the report occurs because the initial disclosure is not made to campus police.
“There are times that we are not notified initially. They might get reported to the different offices like Title IX or counseling services. [Public safety] can only go so far. We can’t force the victim to speak to us,” he said.
In cases of sexual assault that are reported to counseling services, those services can acknowledge an incident occurred, but they cannot share any information the survivor does not want to be shared.
Rosemeyer noticed a similar trend as Mock in which many students are not willing to report incidents of sexual assault or misconduct.
“I do see among our students that they are scared about reporting their own community members,” she said. “Because of backlash or reputation or whatever. So then it’s easier to report things on a non-student.”
‘I Knew I Was Going To Be Blamed for It’
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that over 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report their assault. The remaining 10% is reported to either the campus police or the university’s Title IX Office. Only a fraction of those incidents make the public report.
Julie Evans first started volunteering with Pittsburgh Action Against Rape (PAAR) almost 20 years ago, when she returned home to Pittsburgh after graduating from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. PAAR has provided confidential counseling and advocacy services to rape survivors for over four decades, and Evans began her volunteer work there because as a student she thought sexual assault was happening on campus but no one was talking about it. She felt university administrations were sweeping it under the rug.
“People don’t report because they don’t think they’re going to be believed and supported,” she said. “Our culture is questioning and blaming, and students see that the few times someone has spoken up, campus splits. People take sides.”
She said students are wary of reporting people they know or are close to.
“I think it’s also hard because the people who assaulted them could be their classmates, friends, or you know, relationship partners. People they care about,” she said.
Today, Evans works with PAAR full-time and travels to different colleges and universities as part of their sexual misconduct education training. She represents PAAR as a viable resource for survivors.
In her experience, she said students reporting also depends on which school they attend and what the disciplinary process is like there. Some processes compel survivors to come forward.
“If you talk about it in some schools, you’re forced to go through that judicial process, and that choice is going to be taken away,” she said. “We have done a lot of work to let people know that we’re going to believe and support them and that people aren’t going to be forced into processes that they’re not going to be comfortable with.”
Despite the low numbers published on Clery reports, students seem to be aware when sexual assaults happen on their campus and feel it is easier to talk to peers than faculty about it.
Kelsey Wolfe, a junior public relations and advertising major at Point Park University, said she has seen friends go through this experience.
“I know I have had friends that have been assaulted on campus and didn’t report it out of fear, truthfully,” she said. “It’s easier to talk with people who you have a personal connection with and who are your age than it is to walk into an office and say, ‘Hey, this happened.’ I don’t know you, and you don’t know me — it’s uncomfortable.”
To this end, Title IX officers have made an effort to get more accurate information in perhaps more anonymous ways. Colleen Ruefle, La Roche’s Title IX coordinator, along with others use anonymous campus climate surveys to gauge the real issues facing their students.
“It’s an awkward and a horrendous, challenging thing to have to report. It’s hard to go to strangers and say this happened to me,” Ruefle said.
Title IX officers use the data they gather from these anonymous surveys to adjust their programming efforts and create more authentic bonds with students.
Over the last year, the conversation about sexual assault, harassment, and misconduct has gained notable attention with public accusations of some of Hollywood’s biggest names — film producer Harvey Weinstein, music producer Charlie Walk, and comedian Bill Cosby to name a few. National campaigns like “Time’s Up” and “#MeToo” have created a stronger voice and community for survivors to step forward and talk about their experiences.
Those movements have trickled from Hollywood’s elite down to everyday people including many college students. Pope said students are becoming more proactive with the Title IX Office, visiting to ask questions or reporting concerns before behavior gets to the extent of an assault.
Ruefle said part of the progress has also occurred in the way survivors are questioned when they report a sexual assault.
“You know, people were trained to ask questions differently ten years ago,” she said. “And it’s not that people wanted to blame the victim. But we would ask, ‘Well, what were you wearing?’ We don’t ask that anymore. Now, we’re asking questions like, ‘Well, how did your clothes come off?’ That’s more relevant. ‘Did you take them off? Did somebody else take them off? Did they not come off?’”
Kristine Irwin leads the non-profit Voices of Hope, which focuses on changing rape culture through education. She is also a rape survivor and remembers when the more accusatory questions were the norm. She is aware they sometimes come up today.
“You know I get very frustrated when those questions come up because what does it matter? It doesn’t matter what you were wearing. It doesn’t matter how long it took you to report,” she said.
Irwin was in her first year at Point Park University in October 2004, when she was raped by an acquaintance while visiting her hometown, only a few miles away from PPU.
She has no recollection of the attack or when an ambulance found her on the side of the road. She only remembers having a few drinks with the acquaintance and then waking up in the hospital where she was told she had been raped.
“I knew that [rape] was something bad, and I knew that I was going to be blamed for it. I was so upset because I knew I was going to disappoint my parents. But I also know that I felt like it was something I would never talk to anyone about,” she said.
Irwin struggled with the decision to testify against her attacker and said the preliminary hearing was the toughest part of choosing to speak about what happened to her in open court.
During that hearing, Irwin sat in the lobby as police brought out two garbage bags of evidence into the courtroom. In those bags were the pieces of clothing they had found at the crime scene, the clothes taken from her at the hospital, her rape kit, and everything that physically linked her to that night.
“I remember going back and forth on whether I wanted to testify in court,” she said. “I just said to myself — because I can picture it, I can picture it clear as day seeing him walk by in that preliminary lobby. I said to myself, ‘I don’t want to see him. I don’t want to see him ever again.”
Irwin’s attacker was found guilty and listed on the sex offender registry.
Today, Irwin and her foundation put on speaking engagements and other campaigns to help get the word out about sexual assault. She also published a book of the same name, “Voice of Hope” in which she wrote letters to those who shared a part in her story and features their responses.
She said it is important to educate people, so that they may be able to understand these cases better if they end up serving on a jury.
“If it’s sharing my story, great. Even if it’s not sharing my story, if it’s just sharing what I’ve learned. Whatever the case may be, as long as they’re talking about it. It’s not only helping me heal, but it’s also helping somebody else, so that they can start providing resources,” she said.
Still, more talking does not necessarily mean more reporting. Ruefle said since #MeToo her Clery reporting has been about average, though that does not mean survivors are not getting help starting their healing process.
“Maybe they’re reporting to their counselor. They’re getting help in different ways. Maybe their help isn’t always reporting it to have something done to somebody else. But what’s important to them is themselves and how they can cope with it and how they can feel empowered — whether they report it or not,” she said.
Pope agreed. She said students should be aware they can still receive counseling resources even if they don’t make an official report, and she said she also doesn’t want students to think reporting to their Title IX Office is the equivalent of counseling.
One of the differences is that a report to Title IX is considered a private conversation. It’s not completely confidential. A report to a counselor is. Counseling services can acknowledge an incident happened, but they cannot give any details on it.
Alyssa Pietropaolo recently stepped away from her position as a Title IX Coordinator at Bethany College in Bethany, W. Va., but in her time there, she noticed the discrepancies that can occur between the reports counselors and confidential reporters receive and those that come through the Title IX Office.
“[Counselors] need to say that it happens, but they can’t give details for Clery. Then, that falls through the cracks,” she said.
Before working as a Title IX Coordinator, Pietropaolo was a resident adviser and graduate assistant at Duquesne University while she earned her law degree there. It was during this time that she began learning about higher education law and seeing the differences between what was happening on campus and what was officially acknowledged on the Clery reports. She ended up writing a report of her own on the shortcomings of the Clery Act and learning the cost of complying with it might be too great for universities and colleges to take on.
The Cost of Compliance
The process of finding colleges and universities in violation of the Clery Act can be complex. It requires a review by the Department of Education that will only take place after a complaint is made, the media raises concerns, an institution’s independent audit finds issues, or as a result of a state review by the FBI.
When a review is finished, the DOE releases a Program Review Report that provides the institution an opportunity to respond to the issues. Afterward, the DOE takes all of the information into account and determines whether a fine is appropriate and the amount of that fine.
Typically, these fines are few and far between, and the ones that are levied are not necessarily large.
If the DOE finds an institution has “substantially misrepresented” crime statistics, a fine of up to $55,000 per offense may be applied. According to the Huffington Post, the largest Clery Act fine imposed to date was in 2016 against Pennsylvania State University after violations were uncovered in the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal. That fine amounted to $2,397,000, and the university did not contest it. The second highest was levied against Eastern Michigan University in 2008 for $350,000.
Pietropaolo wrote a report published in Duquesne Law’s Outstanding Student Papers program in which she detailed universities’ compliance processes with Clery. According to her report, only 21 of over 8,000 institutions have been fined for noncompliance. That means there is a less than 0.2% chance of receiving a fine. Pietropaolo wrote that although the Clery Act has increased fines to up to $55,000 per incident, over 80% of fines were lowered by an average of 25% from the amount originally proposed by the Department of Education.
On the other hand, the cost of accurately complying with the Clery Act could have more significant ramifications for a school’s financials. Pietropaolo said schools are not incentivized to report accurate crime statistics because it would not reflect well on them. She said institutions might try to strike a balance between how many sexual assaults and other crimes actually happen and how many of these instances they can publicly acknowledge are being handled.
“I don’t think the problem is with the law. The problem is with the people. Schools are a business, and no business wants to advertise negative information about themselves,” she said.
Accurate reports could affect parents and prospective students in their school choice, as was the case with Jeanne Clery and her family. A high number of sexual assault incidents or other crimes could eventually result in fewer enrolled students, and essentially, fewer tuition dollars.
When Alexis Kreisl and her family were in the process of picking a school for her eldest son, she said they looked into security though it was not necessarily the deciding factor between their top choices. She said her son applied to seven different schools, and they visited 14 total campuses where they sat through numerous presentations.
“Between viewing the schools and junior open houses, security is one of the biggest pieces of information [schools] cover,” Kreisl said. “They give you presentations with crime rates and things.”
She said she felt comfortable relying on what the schools shared with them, but would still like to see more accurate reporting happen.
Kreisl’s experience seems to be the norm for parents helping their children pick the right school. According to a study published in the Journal of College Student Development by Johns Hopkins University, most parents are talking with their sons and daughters about campus safety, but the federally mandated reports play little to no role in the making the ultimate decision — despite the effort, time, and resources used to generate them.
A few Title IX offices and universities have pinpointed a more expansive and anonymous report as a possible solution to inaccurate reporting. Yale and Harvard, for example, release yearly Title IX reports that break down the number of reported incidents, the types of accusations, both the accused and the accuser’s affiliation to the university and their gender — giving a much clearer picture of student life at those institutions and giving parents a better sense of the place their child will be studying, working, socializing, and more or less, living.
While some Title IX Coordinators think this is a great idea in theory, there is some apprehension.
In the past, Rosemeyer had put the Title IX report on her to-do list, but with over 4,000 students on the PPU campus and only one person to plan programming, lessons, and information packages, it was increasingly difficult to get those numbers together and release a report.
She said other universities might not even think about putting that report out there. While they all agree that the ultimate goal is safety and assistance for their students, the outlook at individual schools could be different.
“It depends on the university, but some Title IX coordinators would be shut down immediately if they tried to do that. I think some might think this is too onerous,” she said.
One way to get all schools on the same page could be to change their incentives.
Pietropaolo argues in her report that making a university’s federal funding proportionate with how prevalent sexual misconduct is on campus would incentivize accurate reporting. Today, schools that accurately report the number of sexual assaults on campus risk getting a fine by the federal government, and more, they risk their reputations. Pietropaolo writes that if Clery statistics determined how much funding a school received for sexual assault education and other resources, the stats would more closely resemble campus realities.
Either of these solutions will likely require time-consuming institutional changes. Katie Pope said parents and students can ensure their campus is safe today by looking at what resources are available.
“What is that campus actively doing to prevent sexual assaults, and what is it doing when there is a sexual assault? I think those are far more important questions than the number of rapes reported through Clery,” she said.
Pope said she believed the Clery reports were important, but if they cannot represent campus realities, students need different ways to find out how safe their university is.
“Even if there are two reported rapes on Clery, that doesn’t mean [schools] are safe. It just means that people aren’t coming forward to report, or it means that it’s happening and it’s not covered by Clery or any number of things,” she said. “I think the more important questions for students and their parents to ask is what is your campus doing to prevent this and what is your campus doing when it happens.”