Opinion

Our View | Penn State’s kidnap response a step forward

Penn State police have reacted vigorously to a reported kidnapping and sexual assault attempt Jan. 25 on and near campus.

That is appropriate, and not surprising, given a new U.S. Department of Education investigation into Penn State’s handling of sexual assault reports in past years.

A female student told police Tuesday she was dragged into a car by several men early on the morning of Jan. 25. She had been walking on a campus sidewalk near Simmons Hall on Shortlidge Road.

The student said she was driven to another location, where the men attempted to sexually assault her, but she was able to escape.

The university quickly ramped up night patrols and put out a call for information about the incident. Penn State also increased the presence of auxiliary officers and campus escorts this weekend.

“We have devoted all available resources to finding the suspects,” Police Chief Tyrone Parham told the CDT’s Mike Dawson.

The Department of Education wonders if Penn State police would have responded with the same intensity in the years before the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal hit.

The number of sexual assault reports filed at Penn State have jumped sharply since November 2011, when Sandusky was charged.

The variation is startling. It’s not hard to understand why the change set off alarms in Washington.

Consider:

•  In 2012, the year after the Sandusky scandal broke, police responded to 56 reports of sex offenses on the University Park campus.



•  In the year that ended with the Sandusky charges, there were 24 such reports.



•  In 2010, the year before the scandal unfolded, there were just four.



The university is being investigated through the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to determine if the university complied with Title IX, which protects individuals from discrimination.

This is the department’s second investigation of compliance at Penn State. In late 2011, the Education Department said it would look into whether Penn State’s initial response to Sandusky reports violated the Clery Act, which requires prompt reporting of alleged criminal activity. That inquiry is not yet complete.

The latest Penn State investigation followed closely a proclamation by President Barack Obama that the administration would work toward improving university cultures and reducing crimes against women.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, in an op-ed piece in the CDT, noted a 50 percent increase nationally in forcible sex offenses reported to the federal government from 2009 to 2012.

Many of the sexual assaults reported in 2012 at Penn State allegedly occurred much earlier, some as far back as the 1970s. And some involved Sandusky’s victims.

The federal investigation may shed light on the cause-and-effect relationship between the Sandusky case and increased reporting of sexual assaults.

Did the publicity prompt some to come forward who had been reluctant in the past? Or was Penn State now taking reports more seriously, which in turn makes victims feel more confident in reporting?

We suspect both factors are at work.

What ultimately matters is how Penn State reacts to such incidents in the months and years ahead.

The university’s response to a female student’s report that she was abducted on campus and became a victim of attempted sexual assault suggests that the message, at least for the moment, has been received.

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