By Gianluca D’Elia
A cluster of sexual assaults on campus in the fall 2015 semester brought attention to campus crimes at Rider, leading to an ongoing Title IX investigation. However, a year later, the overall rate of crimes decreased on the Lawrenceville campus, according to the latest data reported by the university under the Jeanne Clery Campus Crime Statistics Act.
The Clery Act, named after a Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered in a residence hall in 1986, requires colleges and universities in the U.S. who participate in federal aid programs to publicly report all criminal offenses on and near their campuses every year.
Rider’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report for 2016, released Sept. 29, reported that liquor law violations had decreased by nearly 50 percent, with 184 incidents in 2015 and 88 in 2016. Burglaries also made a 50 percent decrease, from 14 in 2015 to seven last year. Meanwhile, drug arrests decreased from 24 to 19 last year.
“We can’t attribute this to any one thing in particular,” said Debbie Stasolla, senior associate vice president for planning. “But overall, our numbers are low compared to other institutions, so we feel pretty good about our continuing enforcement and education. We think that has a lot to do with the lower numbers.”
Stasolla said one contributing factor to the drop in numbers could be the closing of Gee Hall for renovations, because a majority of incidents reported every year occur in residence halls.
“It takes a village,” Prevention Education Coordinator Susan Stahley added. “There has been a lot of education by others besides me, thankfully.”
Stahley also emphasized the importance of bystander intervention in drug, alcohol and sexual assault incidents. She described bystander intervention as “seeing someone over-consuming, putting themselves at risk for alcohol poisoning, or reporting someone who you think has drugs, and absolutely stepping in when you see a perpetrator trying to take advantage of someone.”
While most crime statistics showed a decrease in 2016, incidents of fondling and domestic violence have increased since 2015. There were seven reports of fondling in 2016, and only two in 2015. Reports of domestic violence increased from three to nine, and stalking stayed at the same rate, with two incidents reported in both 2015 and 2016.
“Increase in numbers does not always mean increase in occurrences,” Stahley said. “An increase in sexual assault reports can also mean more students are willing to come forward to talk about it, to share their information and trust the system.”
Statistics from the National Sexual Assault Hotline report that one out of six rape victims are women, and one in 33 are men, Stahley said.
“There’s a whole lot more going on than we actually hear about, which is sad,” she said.
Ashley Leeds, senior psychology major and co- president of Real Education About College Health, said, “I think that it’s depressing how such acts of abuse and disrespect are still relevant, common occurrences. If an individual is old enough to attend college, then he or she should be capable of knowing right from wrong in terms of sexual assault.”
Stasolla said the university cannot say for sure whether the increase in numbers reflects an increased comfort level but “we take every incident seriously, and we take our policy seriously. Any sexual assault or misconduct, stalking, dating violence, domestic violence — all of those fall under the umbrella of our anti-harassment and nondiscrimination policy.”
Under New Jersey’s legal definition of domestic violence, when any two roommates get into a physical altercation — regardless of whether they are a couple or just living together — it can still be considered domestic violence, Stasolla said, noting that physical fights between roommates can also contribute to numbers for domestic violence.
Stasolla said that she hopes students are feeling more comfortable reporting sexual assault.
“We’re working very hard across the institution to keep raising awareness and educating students on our policy and expectations, where to go to report, and how we follow our policy so students have the confidence that we’re doing what it says,” she said. “Hopefully, all of that together makes people feel comfortable coming forward. I’m excited, too, that we offer education on things like bystander intervention — what may seem like little things we can do to help prevent a situation from unfolding or help somebody who needs assistance.”
Stasolla also noted that the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) added amendments to the Clery Act in 2013, so there are now more categories for labeling incidents of sexual assault and violence. Categories such as statutory rape, fondling and incest were added to criminal offenses as a result of the amendment.
According to the Clery Act’s VAWA requirements, “Colleges and universities must provide data regarding incidents of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. Institutions must also include policy statements specific to these crimes in their annual security report.”
Another notable increase among the crime statistics in 2016’s report was in motor vehicle thefts. Only one incident had taken place in 2015, but eight occurred in 2016. All eight of those incidents involved the theft of a university golf cart.
Stasolla said the golf cart thefts took place within a two-week period in August 2016.
“We use a lot of golf carts for camps and conferences over the summer,” Stasolla said. “The incidents involved both students and non-students who decided to take golf carts for a joy ride. In some cases, we were able to find out who did it, and other cases we weren’t. You can bet this summer we didn’t have any of those incidents, because we changed our procedures on where we store our golf carts and when we let people use them, to make going for joy rides less enticing.”
Considering the past year’s statistics overall, Stasolla said she commends the collaborative work between Public Safety and Residence Life to keep the community safe.
“I can’t say enough, even though it sounds cliché at times, that safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Stasolla said. “It’s a shared responsibility, and so I’d like to think the fact that our numbers are where they are, is indicative of how many people take that seriously.”