Sexual assault reports up 200 percent at UAlbany
By Lindsey Riback
Reports of sexual assault on the University at Albany campus hit 150 in 2015 – a 200 percent increase from the previous year, according to Chantelle Cleary, UAlbany’s Title IX Coordinator.
UAlbany is taking a different approach from other schools, embracing the rising numbers.
“I know it sounds crazy to say, but we want reports to go up,” said Cleary. “We know it is happening and if it’s not being reported to us, we are not getting services to these people who have had these experiences.”
The former prosecutor for the Assistant District Attorney in Albany said national statistics indicate that one in four women are sexually assaulted on college campuses. UAlbany has an undergraduate student body of roughly 17,000 with an almost even male to female ratio. This means that there should be roughly 2,100 reports of sexual assault reported to the university each year.
Cleary attributes the 200 percent increase in reports to the student body’s awareness of the resources available to them and recognizes that this is a great start. However, she also acknowledges that the number is much lower than expected so there is still much to be done.
In 2014, President Robert J. Jones opened up the Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence with Carol Stenger as the director. Currently, UAlbany is the only school in the SUNY system with its own sexual violence resource center. The following year he hired Cleary as the university’s full-time Title IX Coordinator, and in March 2016 he added a second full-time Title IX Coordinator, Tricia George.
The main purpose behind the center, which Stenger refers to as a “one-stop shop,” is to give victims of sexual assault a chance to be heard even if they choose not to press charges, along with providing any resources they may need.
“The very first thing we are going to offer you is a good listening to,” Stenger said. “You just had someone take away your decision making, they’ve decided what you’re going to do with your body and with your space. We want to give you that control back, we don’t want to take it away from you and say this is what we’re going to do.”
Unlike the Title IX office, the Advocacy Center is completely confidential, so Stenger is only required to report the date, time and location of the attacks to the university unless the victim chooses to pursue an investigation.
In the event that the student does come forward, Stenger will inform Cleary, whose job it is to then determine if the victim wants the university to conduct an administrative investigation, the police to conduct an investigation, both or neither. The purpose of the administrative investigation is to decide if any UAlbany policies have been violated.
“When I reach out to a student after receiving a report, my mission is to ensure that they are aware of all of their options so that they can make an informed decision… and they’re in the driver’s seat,” Cleary said.
For each incident, Cleary and George meet with the Sexual Misconduct and Response Team, SMART, to determine what is best for the campus community as a whole, but they also do their best to honor the victim’s request.
According to Cleary, the main driving force behind the university’s approach to report sexual assaults has been Jones, who “has been not only fully committed, but a leader on this.”
Stenger also noted Jones’ and the university’s collective support, hoping this will make students more likely to come forward.
“The university would not be funding a place like this if they wanted to shove this stuff under the rug,” she said. “Having a stand-alone agency says something about the university’s approach which I hope would also make people more comfortable.”
To confidentially report an incident of sexual violence or to seek support, the Advocacy Center for Sexual Violence is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and can be found in Indian Quad’s Seneca Hall basement. To file a report of sexual conduct to the university, Chantelle Cleary can be contacted at 518-956-8168.