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What Jeanne’s parents didn’t know that you need to know now.

October 7, 2011

If you’re the parent of a teenager or young adult living on a college campus, chances are you have more than your share of worries. Student safety on campus shouldn’t be one of them – but, unfortunately, even the most beautiful campus can hide dangers.

Back in 1986, Connie and Howard Clery had already gone through the first scary months as their 19-year-old daughter Jeanne Anne enjoyed her freshman year at Lehigh University. When Jeanne moved into her dorm, her parents’ safety concerns were reassured by what the tour guide told them about three monitored and locked doors between the street and their daughter’s dorm room. It wasn’t until after Jeanne was tortured, raped, and killed in her dorm room by a Lehigh student she’d never met – who’d walked in through the three UNLOCKED, UNMONITORED doors – that they found out there had been more than 181 reports of propped open, unlocked doors in their daughter’s dorm in the four months prior to her death. They also learned that assaults and rapes on campus were not only common, but that there was a pattern of universities around the country covering up such assaults – even though there are 30-40 murders on college campuses every year.

The Clery family sued Lehigh, and they lobbied successfully for a change in the law that requires any university with on-campus housing to maintain and publish reports of on-campus crime. That law, the Jeanne Clery Security on Campus Act has been in effect for over 20 years. It requires campuses to compile statistics on sexual violence (including data rape), assault, and other violent crimes – and to make those reports available to parents and students.

Unfortunately, many campuses comply with the letter of the law – compiling the statistics, and making them available when families insist – but work very hard to define incidents on campus in such a way that they aren’t reportable under the act. For instance, rather than using the phrase “date rape” (a reportable offense), campus police on some campuses have reported being told to use the term “disorderly and offensive behavior with further investigation pending” instead (not a reportable offense).

To find out how to request a copy of the Clery Act report on a campus where your student is attending (or might attend), click here. And if you want to go a step further, and do what many parents are doing – hiring a private investigator to verify the security arrangements and Clery Act report status on a specific campus – contact a reputable local private detective who has a good relationship with the campus police but isn’t afraid to do his or her own checking to verify the publicly available information.

“Our daughter died because she didn’t know how unsafe life on campus was,” Connie Clery writes on the foundation website she and her husband established. “Crime awareness can prevent future campus victims. Be aware – demand accountability.”

What to check before your child moves into the dorm
(Or what to ask a private detective to verify once they’ve moved in)

 Review the most recent Clery Act report filed by the campus police department.
 Visit the dorm at different times of day and night (including on weekend nights when traffic in and out is heavy). Are the doors locked? Are you required to show ID to get in and out? Check ALL the doors, including parking garages and fire escapes, if applicable. Check for underground weather tunnels and connecting passageways to other buildings.
 Talk to the local police department about any unsolved crimes near campus. If there are predators operating near campus – especially serial rapists – it might change your patterns of behavior, such as how often you talk to your student, what kinds of check-in procedures you use, and so on.
 Talk to your student’s roommate and the roommate’s parents. Exchange contact information – and use it to stay in touch.
 Make sure that you have passwords to the student’s email and social networking accounts, in a sealed envelope in a safe deposit box, to be used only in the event of a true emergency. (We’re not recommending that you snoop on a young adult’s private correspondence – just that in case law enforcement needs them, they needn’t waste time waiting for a warrant to be served to the ISP or social network site.)
 If you hire a private detective to investigate security on campus for you, you’ll want to ask them to:
o Provide security assessment in the parking area, dorm rooms, and library areas as well as any other areas where your student spends a lot of time. (Such as rehearsal halls, the gym, the student hub, bookstore, computer lab, and so on.
o Identify the most common paths between classes, the dorm, and other on-campus destinations to make sure that they are well-lit, monitored, and safe.
o Identify any areas of specific risk, including risky behavior by your student, such as jogging alone, excessive drinking, or involvement with one or more other students known to have had problems with drugs, alcohol, or the criminal justice system. (Sometimes called the boyfriend check – though this is a misnomer, since a good investigator will provide you with a profile of any risky contacts, not just romantic contacts.)
o Verify the university’s hiring practices, to be sure that all on-campus workers (including day laborers and temporary workers) have passed appropriate background checks.
o Review the Meagan’s Law reports for the campus area, and flag individuals for you and your student. (For example, if the pizza delivery clerk at one near-campus pizza place is on the list of registered sex offenders, wouldn’t you rather your student ordered from another chain?)

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