Public Safety issues campus alert regarding sexual assault incidents

Elizabeth Worthington, News Editor

All members of the University community received an email on Sept. 7 with the subject line “[CAMPUS-ALERT] Timely Warning,” informing the campus community of two separate sexual assault incidents that took place on Sept. 3 in the Chi Phi fraternity house.

The email was sent in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or “Clery Act.” According to the University’s website, the Clery Act “requires that crime, fire safety, and emergency notification information is available to the campus community.” The “timely warnings” provision of this federal act mandates that the University alerts the community to crimes that present an ongoing threat to the campus.

According to the Department of Public Safety, what constitutes an ongoing threat is largely circumstantial and depends on the evidence provided by the report. In this particular case, since two separate reports were made about incidents that occurred at the same location, it was deemed to be an ongoing threat to the community.

“The regulations implementing the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act specify when an institution is required by law to issue a Timely Warning. This is not a new requirement, nor a new initiative on the part of Bucknell. Rather, the decision as to whether to issue a Timely Warning is fact-specific and must be decided on a case-by-case basis,” Title IX Coordinator and Clery Act Compliance Officer Kate Grimes said.

“While it might seem as though certain situations are similar, and therefore a Timely Warning should either consistently be issued each time or not at all, that determination must be made on a case-by-case basis. The decision is informed by the specific facts of a given incident and based on information not available to the general public,” Chief Communications Officer Andy Hirsch said.

Chief of Public Safety Steve Barilar said that there was “a ton of discussion” prior to the issuance of the statement regarding the wording of the email to ensure they were keeping the safety of the community as a priority and following the legal requirements set forth in the Clery Act, while still respecting the privacy of the individuals involved. The timing of the email was also discussed; it was sent on a Wednesday evening at 10:23 p.m., a time when many students on campus attend parties hosted by fraternities. Public Safety asserts that it is responsible for issuing the warning as soon as it receives a credible report about the incident, something that does not always happen immediately after it occurs.

“The timing of the issuance of the warning is driven by when relevant information becomes available and, of course, the ability of those involved in deciding to issue a timely warning to confer and prepare the warning,” Grimes said.

Many students questioned the decision for Public Safety to mention the name of the fraternity house where the incident took place, for members of this fraternity are likely to now be associated with these incidents. Barilar affirmed the necessity of naming the location where the incidents occurred in order to protect the safety of the community and to adhere to the Clery Act’s requirement that the warning include as much information as possible, but he noted that the email does not explicitly say of which fraternity the perpetrators are members, if any.

The email was purposely vague in order to protect the anonymity of the victim. While the victim does have to grant permission in order for further criminal or legal action to be pursued, this permission is not necessary for a “timely warning” to be issued because it is meant to protect the community as a whole.

From here, the investigation can continue on a criminal level, an administrative level (meaning it will be dealt with internally within the University), or the victim can choose not to continue it at all. The statute of limitations for sexual assault is 12 years in Pennsylvania, so if the victim changes his or her mind during that period of time, the investigation can resume. There are currently two ongoing investigations, one being conducted by the Department of Public Safety and one by Grimes.

Barilar wishes that more people participate in the SpeakUP program or at least act as positive bystanders.

“I would like for students to practice what they learn, not just Monday through Friday from 8-4, but on the weekends too … Something changes on the weekends. Students don’t always do what they know in their hearts and minds is right,” Barilar said.

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