Improving Campus Security: From Sexual Assault to High-Tech Thievery

Many problems still fueled by alcohol, but identity theft becomes the new wave

Like any large forum, college campuses can be dangerous places. Small cities unto themselves, they see thousands come, go, eat, drink, work and play. Unlike small cities, however, they are populated with 18- to 25-year-olds likely away from home for the first time. Trusting, eager to fit in and with the decision-making region of their brains not quite yet mature, these undergraduates unfortunately fall prey to a variety of crimes.

The most common crime on campuses today is "theft" according to Daniel Carter, senior vice president, Security On Campus, Inc. "The incidents are so high that there are no national numbers" Carter reportsthat bicycles and laptops remain the most popular items stolen, as they are often left unattended. More often than not, students don't gopublic with the incidents. "Campuses have initiated programs to label valuable items so they can be returned if recovered," says Carter. "It's all pretty low-tech and old fashioned."

While it may not seem so to the cash-strapped student who just lost a valuable item, theft is not deemed serious enough to be a reportable crime under The Clery Act. The more personal robbery and intrusive burglary, however, must be reported. The U.S. Department of Education's latest numbers from 2003 show that on-campus burglary at public,four-year institutions stands at 12,211 events. Robbery, under the same criteria, is at 730 reported events.

Fueled by Alcohol

"These crimes are no where near as prevalent as sexual assault andalcohol abuse," says Kimberly Pfaff, director of the Behavior Sciences Department of Business Controls, Inc., a professional corporate investigation and consulting firm."Alcohol-related arrests have increased in the last 15 years." Pfaff credits this upswing to campus and local police departments taking alcohol abuse more seriously.

She also notes the rise in eating disorders in young woman as a factor in alcohol abuse. "Women see beer as fattening so they choose hard liquor," Pfaff explains. "As a result, they are drinking an exorbitant number of shots." Often with disastrous results, as seen in 2004when Colorado saw two back-to-back, on-campus, alcohol-related deaths. In answer, the state passed a law that grants immunity to any underage drinkers who call 911 to help a friend.

To get a handle on the problem before the party runs out of control, Pfaff and Megan Rowland Levi, a behavioral sciences specialist at Business Controls, Inc., strongly suggest peer counseling. "Student-to-student mentorship is more effective than adult lecturing in this area," says Rowland Levi. "It becomes less about 'don't drink because it's bad' to 'this is what happens when you have three beers, this iswhat happens when you have 10.'"

And what happens is serious stuff. Along with alcohol poisoning come increases in crime, from vandalism to sexual assault. Sexual assault, in fact, remains a huge--and hugely underreported--reality of thecollege experience. "The Department of Justice says that up to one in four students are victims of a completed sexual assault during their undergraduate career" says Carter. "The DOJ also speculates that fewer than five percent of these crimes ever get reported."

Susan Marine, director of Harvard's Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, agrees. "National studies suggest the disparity between experienced and reported events in the 90 percent range" she says. Reasons for not reporting include trauma, guilt, fear and an unwillingness to name names.

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