A three year investigation by the United States Department of Education has prompted New York's public universities to update policies on sexual harassment and sexual assault. As YNN's Geoff Redick explains, the investigation centered on four SUNY schools, one of them, the University at Albany.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- Initiated in December 2010, the investigation was prompted by an open complaint against Buffalo State College regarding sexual assault and harassment. U.S. Department of Education officials analyzed all 29 SUNY campuses and visited four specific campuses to conduct student focus groups. One of those was the University at Albany.
Campus records revealed 58 reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault between 2007 and 2011. That amount was nearly double the reports at all the other in-depth schools. But while that number is shocking on the surface, local rape crisis officials say there is a positive spin.
"High numbers are a good thing. And when I say that, that means that, to me, I think they're doing something right that people are reporting. When colleges report zero or very few rapes, that, to me, is a little suspicious," said Karen Ziegler, Albany County Crime Victim and Sexual Violence Center.
But the investigation also uncovered deficiencies in the way UAlbany handled complaints of sexual harassment and assault.
The Department of Education said the university did not always conduct full, independent investigations, did not properly notify all parties of the schedules and results of disciplinary hearings, was not prompt in moving complaint cases along and did not always inform the accused of their right to appeal university decisions.
In response, UAlbany released a statement Thursday, saying, "We continue to proactively develop numerous resources to assist and support victims of sexual or relationship violence. These guidelines from the Office of Civil Rights will assist us in moving forward."
Ultimately, experts say, a cultural change is the most important factor in any situation where sex assaults occur.
Ziegler said, "We all collectively need to say to anyone who is considering violence, that we as a community will not tolerate it, it is not acceptable here and that we envision a society without violence."