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Clery Act: What to know about the law mandating campus police to log sexual violence

A grisly 1986 murder of a college student led to widespread reform in how we log on-campus violence. Here's what the Clery Act expects from universities.

INDIANAPOLIS — Jeanne Ann Clery had just moved back into her dorm room at Lehigh University after spring vacation in 1986. Stoughton Hall was a picturesque place to live, an all-girls dorm on a sprawling campus in Pennsylvania, but the lax security there would contribute to her early death. 

One night, a 20-year-old fellow student, Joseph M. Howard, stumbled drunk and high into the dorm. 

Bypassing doors propped up by pizza boxes, he made his way to Clery's door, which she left unlocked as a courtesy for a roommate who misplaced her key. 

Howard broke in and attacked Clery in her bed. She was sodomized and raped, her neck slashed with broken glass.

In the end, Clery was strangled to death with a Slinky wire toy. 

RELATED: ASU found in 'serious violation' of the Clery Act, US Dept of Education strongly recommends reevaluate safety policies and procedures

After her murder, Clery's parents insisted they would never have let their daughter set foot on Lehigh University if they had known about the rash of crimes occurring on campus. At the time of their daughter's death, there were no national guidelines for how to report crime on college campuses and few ways to tell what crime looked like on campus. 

The Clery case sparked national backlash against unreported campus crime and paved the way for campus crime reform. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or "the Clery Act," into federal law. 

Decades after that passed, one crime on campus is still going mostly unreported. The American Civil Liberties Union estimates as many as 95 percent of campus sexual assaults are unreported. 

A Department of Justice study discovered only 20 percent of female students, age 18-24 who experienced sexual violence, report to law enforcement. 

RELATED: Texas State University says it misreported campus crime numbers

Universities are required by the Clery Act to log sexual violence in daily crime logs. Sexual offenses - and other crimes - reported to city police are not taken down in those reports. Sometimes, reports in daily logs are filed by staff members working with incomplete information, so the logs are not a concrete, overarching glimpse into sexual crime on campus. 

Still, when information about sexual violence is reported, it can be a useful resource for students wanting to know more. Here's how to access those daily crime logs, and more of what you need to know about the Clery Act. 

What is the Clery Act?

The act is a federal law that requires colleges to report crimes that occur "on campus" and school safety policies. 

This information becomes available each year in an Annual Security Report (ASR), which can be found on a school's website. 

The Clery Act also requires schools to send timely warnings to the school community when there are known risks to public safety on campus.

Which crimes are covered by the Clery Act?

Crimes like rape, sodomy, incest, burglary, arson, are all reportable crimes under The Clery Act. Hate crimes are also covered.

There are also geographical limitations to the Clery Act. To qualify as reportable, a Clery Act crime must have occurred in one of the following locations:

  • On-Campus: 
    • (1) Any building or property owned or controlled by an institution within the core campus (same reasonably contiguous geographic area) and used by the institution in direct support of, or in a manner related to, the institution’s educational purposes, including residence halls.
    • (2) Any building or property that is within or reasonably contiguous to the area identified in paragraph (1), that is owned by the institution but controlled by another person, is frequently used by students, and supports institutional purposes.
  • Non-Campus: 
    • (1) Any building or property owned or controlled by a student organization that is officially recognized by the institution
    • Or (2) any building or property owned or controlled by an institution that is used in direct support of, or in relation to, the institution’s educational purposes, is frequently used by students, and is not within the same reasonably contiguous geographic area of the institution.
  • Public Property: 
    • All public property, including thoroughfares, streets, sidewalks, and parking facilities, that is within the core campus, or immediately adjacent to and accessible from the core campus.

However, institutions do not have to report crimes in the log if the following conditions apply: 

  1. The disclosure is prohibited by law.
  2. If disclosure would jeopardize the confidentiality of the victim, or the safety of an individual.
  3. If disclosure would jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation.
  4. If disclosure would cause a suspect to flee or evade detection.
  5. If disclosure would result in the destruction of evidence.

Does every school log crime in the same way?

Not necessarily. 

Even though every institution must maintain a daily crime log of criminal incidents and alleged criminal incidents that are reported to the campus police, they do not all have the same information. 

Some universities also provide more information than others online. 

Authorities at Indiana University, for example, stopped giving the address of reported sexual crimes, like rape and sexual battery. 

"I think giving a general location and the knowledge and awareness of such events occurring is important to our campus community. To give the exact location would then put the reporting party's information at risk, and we want people to come forward and report these instances," IU Bloomington Police Chief Jill Lees said. 

It's a move that some have criticized. A Change.org petition said IUPD's move protects the accused more than the accuser. 

"This is not protecting privacy, but rather enabling fraternities to continue sexual assault culture without being held accountable or implementing programs to fix the issue. Furthermore, this policy actively works against the protection of the rest of the student body. Students have the right to all the information necessary for their safety," the petition reads.

The Clery Act is sometimes the reason students receive text notifications or emails about crimes on campus, but there are a set of guidelines

Under the Clery Act, colleges and universities use timely warnings and emergency notifications to inform the campus community of potential threats against which they can take preventive measures. 

You'll sometimes see the Clery Act specifically mentioned in emergency notifications.  

You can get a full look at the requirements here. 

Where can I pull up my campuses daily crime log? 

Google your campus and then, Daily Crime Log, it should pop up, because schools are federally mandated to update the crime log. Many have this information online. 

Some schools, like Purdue University, have the crime logs sectioned into archives. Others, like Indiana University, have more of an ongoing report. 

Others prefer a submitted, official request. 

What happens if a school is in violation of the Clery Act?  

Schools that violate the Clery Act may face warnings, fines of up to $35,000 per violation, the limitation or suspension of federal aid, or the loss of eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs.

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