In April 2011, the U.S. Department of Education mandated that universities investigate all cases of on-campus sexual misconduct involving students. At the University of Michigan, the Office of Institutional Equity handles these allegations, with “highly trained investigators” interviewing those involved and any possible witnesses. Between September 2012 and February 2013, there were three cases of sexual assault involving the same alleged perpetrator at Zaragon Place, an off-campus apartment building on East University Street. However, the OIE only reported the first incident in September and failed to report the second incident — which occurred later that month — only doing so after the third attack five months later in February. Although federal laws don’t force the OIE to report off-campus investigations to the University of Michigan Police Department, here the minimum obligations weren’t sufficient in identifying a pattern that may have prevented a third incident of sexual assault. The University should implement a consistent reporting process to protect its students on and off-campus.

In September 2012, the OIE was informed of an incident involving the sexual assault of a student living in a Zaragon apartment. Though the survivor didn’t want to file a police report, the OIE informed University Police of the incident. During their investigation of this first allegation, an investigator in the OIE learned of a second incident involving the same alleged graduate student later that month. While the second survivor also declined to file a formal police report, this time the OIE declined to report the allegation to University Police, leaving the incident unreported on campus. Five months later, a third assault was reported in the same apartment building with the same perpetrator. After the survivor of the third case filed a report with the Ann Arbor Police Department, OIE investigators discovered that all three allegations of sexual misconduct implicated the same suspect. As a result of the OIE’s inconsistent crime reporting, both Zaragon residents and students alike were unaware of the possible threat. With the development of the third case, the under-reporting of the second allegation can be seen as a missed opportunity in preventing additional crime.

Under current law, the University is required to disclose crimes that occur in campus facilities, as well as other specified areas like Greek Life housing. The Clery Act, passed in 1990, pulls federal funding from universities that fail to report campus crimes. In 2011, the Department of Education expanded colleges’ roles in crime reporting, threatening to withhold funding from schools that don’t investigate sexual assaults that occur on campus. While the OIE’s failure to report the second incident doesn’t technically violate federal law since the incident took place off campus, the University shouldn’t prioritize the safety of students living on campus over those off. The University has a responsibility to protect all students — regardless of where they live — even if current law doesn’t explicitly require it.

In the absence of federal law, the OIE needs to set clear standards when investigating off-campus crime. Consistency and communication between the OIE and University police are critical in promoting a safe campus and preventing crime on and off campus.

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