University responds to CU-CitizenAccess, The Daily Illini investigation of sex crime reporting

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Editor’s note: The University of Illinois submitted the following op-ed in response to stories by CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini about sexual assault on campus. CU-CitizenAccess is confident in the reporting on the issue. We will address the points made by the university in its letter in subsequent stories.

The op-ed, from University police chief Jeff Christensen and Title IX Director Danielle Morrison, is published in full:

When a member of the campus community makes the decision to report a sexual assault to the university, the first step is supporting that person and providing the care they may need. That will always be our primary focus, and it is a significant piece overlooked in a May 4 series of stories by CU-CitizenAccess and The Daily Illini.

Like many universities across the country, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has worked diligently to adhere to the federal Clery Act and to offer additional methods for reporting, better response and more comprehensive assistance for survivors of sexual misconduct. To suggest that any report is ignored is incorrect.

The U.S. Department of Education, which enforces the Clery Act, has conducted two reviews of significant portions of the university’s policy and procedures. In 2016, the department found no Clery Act violations. In 2013, the department concluded that an effort should be made to more quickly issue mass emails about crimes. When the University of Illinois Police Department adjusted its procedures to do so, the Department of Education wrote that “the newly revised policy and procedures should aid in the safety and security of the campus community.”

We would like to offer a few corrections and clarifications to the May 4 stories:

  • The story conflates Clery-related crimes with non-Clery-related crimes, creating the mistaken impression that the campus community and family members are not receiving reports of incidents that should be reported under Clery. While all reports of sexual misconduct are treated equally, regardless of the circumstances, the statistics collected and published are done so in compliance with federal law. The Clery Act does not grant the university flexibility to adjust its reporting procedures or the way it informs the campus community of Clery-related crimes.
  • Not all reports of sexual misconduct received by various campus offices and personnel must be forwarded to University Police under the Clery Act. Responsible employees on campus are required to submit reports to the Title IX and Disability Office, who then reach out to survivors to offer resources, support services and information about their rights and options. Additionally, survivors may seek assistance through confidential resources detailed at wecare.illinois.edu.
  • Neither police nor Title IX investigations are slowed or impeded by data collection. A report from a campus security authority does not automatically trigger a police investigation, and a police investigation proceeds only if that is what a survivor wishes.
  • Many of our data collection methods are not required by law, but rather are self-imposed redundancies to enhance our compliance efforts.

And, most importantly, no report is ever ignored. The Urbana campus has devoted more resources to enhance reporting options and its ability to respond by hiring a full-time Title IX and Disability Coordinator, and opening the new Title IX and Disability Office, in January of this year. The search for an assistant director of the Title IX and Disability Office is in process. The progress in recent years is made apparent by the rapidly increasing number of survivors who are accessing resources.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, there are hundreds of caring people to whom a survivor may report sexual misconduct. No matter how a survivor chooses to report, we will promptly offer support and resources. To focus only on errant perceptions of compliance shortcomings ignores the university’s much broader effort to prevent sexual assault and care for survivors.

Jeff Christensen is the Executive Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Danielle Morrison is the Director of the Title IX and Disability Office, and the Title IX and Disability Coordinator for the University.