Penn State: Are Colleges And Universities Covering Up Aggressive/Sexual/Violent Behavior?

Most, I am sure, are upstanding purveyors of the public trust and their responsibility to their students (In Loco Parentis).  Yet, is the incident and subsequent cover up at Penn State more pervasive in other colleges and universities across our Nation?

A recent New York Times article, On Campus, a Law Enforcement System to Itself was very revealing when it stated,

On most of these campuses, law enforcement is the responsibility of sworn police officers who report to university authorities, not to the public. With full-fledged arrest powers, such campus police forces have enormous discretion in deciding whether to refer cases directly to district attorneys or to leave them to the quiet handling of in-house disciplinary proceedings.

Speaking of Penn State, “I think we’re just on the cusp of breaking the silence,” said Colby Bruno, the managing lawyer at the Boston-based Victim Rights Law Center who specializes in cases of sexual assault on campus. “But there are a lot of very invidious ways that a school can go about squelching these reports. This is everyone’s problem; it’s not just a sports problem or a sports-icon problem. The scandal puts Penn State on the radar of the department’s Civil Rights division, which this April issued a tough letter to all 6,000 colleges and universities that accept federal money, spelling out how they must handle cases of sexual violence under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act to prevent the creation of “a hostile environment” for accusers that would violate equality of access to education.”

The obvious question is how pervasive is this issue? How many colleges and university are deliberately hiding detrimental information?  The Clery Act requires that assaults be reported and sexual assaults under Title IX must also be reported.  What will we learn about the abuses at Penn State?  We know that the Penn State police did investigate a complaint in 1998 about Jerry Sandusky and turned it over to the district attorney, who declined to prosecute. Here campus police responded appropriately and yet did the University President and the President’s chain of authority failed to follow up, suspend or expel the accused parties?

Brett Sokolow, JD, preeminent legal mind in the areas of risk, behavioral intervention and Title IX and their application in Higher Education, states the obvious, “Much is being made of the criminal acts of Sandusky and those who covered for him.  In the coming weeks and months, Penn State will be investigated for violating the Clery Act.  Lawsuits are likely, and will likely allege that the university — and perhaps collaborating local officials – were negligent and exposed countless boys to foreseeable harm by failing to fulfill their duties to report and to act.” 

But let’s examine incident reporting systems being placed on many college and university campuses today.  First, too often these systems are merely reporting systems, they fail to track aggressive behavior.  In the case of Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech, there were over 70 different indicators that Cho might be deadly but there was not system in place to report and track these observations.  VT’s horrific experience was the watershed event that began to change campus security across the Nation. 

Further, we live in a very subjective world: what is one person’s passionate advance for affection is another’s interpretation of a near sexual assault.  Subjective references like “scary, strange, and weird” make it increasingly difficult to assess threatening behavior by Behavioral Intervention Teams, Threat Assessment Teams and/or Campus Police. Yet, each case must be fully investigated to demonstrate “due diligence” or the campus will be at greater risk of lawsuit.  Mental health counselors are also being foiled by the subjective nature of their analysis.  VT’s shooter, Cho was evaluated on three different occasions and in each case he was deemed to be “Depressed and anxious but not at risk of hurting himself or others.” 

Brett Sokolow continues, “The 40+ count indictment of Sandusky makes clear that the highest ranking officials of Penn State had knowledge of his pattern of abuse and even rape.  That is why they have lost their jobs and some are facing prosecution for failing to report the abuse as a crime to authorities.  Their failure to act can also form the basis for allegations of deliberate indifference under Title IX.”  This is an indictment against any individual in authority at any institutions of higher education that is aware of similar behavior and as chosen “deliberate indifference” as a course of action. We may not be able to eliminate all such moral indifference, however, a comprehensive Risk Management System (RMS) will provide another set of eyes and ears and greatly reduce the chance of “deliberate indifference.”

PREVENTION requires a three-part integrated Risk Management System.  First, there must be an army of eyes and ears (First Observers) that are trained to identify objective observables of “aggressive” behavior and call them in to a Behavioral Intervention Team, who are trained to appropriately respond. If every tenth person at Penn State were so trained, it is fair to speculate that there would have been enough observations of impropriety that Penn State authorities could not have hidden them.  Second, there must be Qualified Responders (BIT members) who are trained to objectively measure emerging aggression and apply the appropriate corresponding skills to maximize their result.  And thirdly, there must be objective measures of emerging aggression, whether sexual or otherwise. We would recommend our Meter of Emerging Aggression and its Longitudinal Tracking, an objective and forensic recording and tracking Risk Management System (RMS).  This three-part integrated Risk Management System is called the Campus Aggression Prevention System (CAPS).

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