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Loyola Needs To Speak Up About Sex Crimes On Campus, Students Say

By Linze Rice | October 4, 2016 6:25am
 Loyola Campus Safety Sgt. Tim Cunningham addressed students at a recent safety meeting, closed to the public.
Loyola Campus Safety Sgt. Tim Cunningham addressed students at a recent safety meeting, closed to the public.
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ROGERS PARK — After a rash of sex crimes on and near Loyola University's Lake Shore Campus in September, some students say they're upset the school didn't notify them of all the incidents that took place.

Between Sept. 6-19, at least five instances of a man grabbing women from behind were reported to Campus Safety and the Chicago Police Department, though students were told of only two incidents via email safety alerts provided by the university.

Cook County prosecutors said one of those incidents was committed by Soroush Aflaki, who was charged with the crime last week, along with a similar incident in West Ridge in the 6100 block of North Leavitt Street. He admitted to police he was responsible for more gropings, prosecutors said.

At a Sept. 28 meeting held at the school to address safety concerns, a school official told students they were not alerted about all the incidents because the school didn't  want to overload students with safety emails, students at the meeting said. Members of the public and off-campus media were not allowed to attend the meeting.

"They were for sure downplaying it," said Melissa Haggerty, a student and organizer on campus. "Campus Safety said they didn't want to inundate us with emails. ... I think this safety meeting was to make Loyola feel better about the sexual assaults, and to try and assuage the students' fears without really doing anything."

The Loyola Phoenix student newspaper, which was at the meeting, reported that Campus Safety Sgt. Tim Cunningham told students the Loyola Police are “very selective” about which incidents to notify students of and how many email alerts are sent out, because too many alerts could "desensitize" students to the serious nature of each individual crime.

Kristin Trehearne, a spokeswoman for Loyola, said in an email to DNAinfo that "communication is critical" and the two alerts sent out by Loyola had done what "they were intended to do," which was raising awareness in hopes it would encourage additional reporting of incidents.

Other crimes were not reported to Chicago Police, in accordance with Loyola policy, because the student victims did not want the school to report them, Trehearne said. 

"In each of the recent reports received by Campus Safety, survivors were briefed on the resources and options available to them — one of those options being their right to sign a complaint with" Chicago Police, Trehearne said. "As part of our process at Loyola, we do not share gender-based violence reports with CPD unless the survivor chooses to move forward with a complaint."

Safety alerts do not provide any identifying information about victims.

Those incidents include:

• Sept. 6: Prosecutors said Aflaki groped a woman from behind on his bike around 10 p.m. in the 6100 block of North Leavitt Street in West Ridge before heading to Loyola. Students were not notified. Aflaki was charged in this incident.

• Sept. 6: Chicago Police said someone touched a Loyola student's buttocks from behind, also at 10 p.m., in the 6500 block of North Kenmore. It is categorized by Chicago Police as criminal sexual abuse on a college campus. Loyola did not notify students. 

• Sept. 7: Prosecutors said shortly after groping a woman on Leavitt Street, Aflaki rode his bicycle the 1.7 miles to campus and at 12:30 a.m. (Chicago Police have said this incident occurred at 3:30 a.m.) grabbed a 19-year-old student's buttocks from behind in the 6300 block of North Winthrop Avenue as she walked home from the library. Chicago Police classify the incident as criminal sexual abuse, and Loyola alerted students. Aflaki was also charged in this incident.

• Sept. 7: A Loyola staff member was grabbed on her buttocks from behind at 9:05 a.m. in the 1600 block of West Greenleaf Avenue on her way to work. The incident is classified as a battery. The university did not mention it in the safety alert for the incident that occurred earlier in the day.

• Sept. 18: At 10:35 p.m., another student was grabbed by an unknown man on her buttocks as she walked past 6313 N. Winthrop Ave. The incident was classified as criminal sexual abuse and students were notified via a campus safety alert.

• Sept. 19: In a community alert to students, Loyola announced an arrest was made in connection to some of the gropings, but said a Sept. 19 incident in the 6300 block of North Winthrop was still under investigation. A separate campus safety alert was not issued for that incident.

In addition, two off-campus rapes were reported by students to Chicago Police in September.

Around 1:30 a.m. Sept. 16, a 20-year-old woman was intoxicated at the home of a male acquaintance in the 6300 block of North Wayne Avenue in Edgewater when he sexually assaulted her, according to Officer Michelle Tannehill, a Chicago Police spokeswoman. 

Then, around 2 a.m. Sept. 24, another 20-year-old woman reported being raped in the 6100 block of North Kenmore Avenue. In that case, the woman had gone to the home of a 22-year-old male friend when shortly after arriving he sexually assaulted her, Tannehill said. 

The woman drove herself to St. Francis Hospital in Evanston and then reported the incident to the university. 

The Loyola Phoenix reported both survivors of the assaults were students. Neither incident was reported to the campus community via safety alert.

After those incidents were reported by the Phoenix, Haggerty said students asked about them at the safety meeting and were told by campus police they were "handling" it. 

Jake Dumbauld, a junior who attended the meeting, said he agrees victim anonymity and protection is important, but "a little more information would be beneficial ... if there were that many instances in such a short amount of time, I think there could have been more information."

Haggerty agreed, saying she would rather have too many emails than not have the full picture that could help her make more informed safety decisions. 

"I personally would rather be up to date on the issues," Haggerty said. "If CPD is sending out these alerts, so should campus safety. If I see three emails in a row about different sexual assaults, it's going to make me mobilize for change, and I honestly think they were afraid of that."

One suggestion made by students at the meeting was to include more victim-centered resources along with its usual list of tips and police hotlines, Dumbauld said.

Loyola students marched against sexual assaults after several incidents around the campus Monday. [Facebook/Students for Reproductive Justice]

Loyola's handling of the situation was in compliance with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act, according to Trehearne, which outlines college campus safety reporting requirements and guidelines, including giving out "timely warnings" — safety alerts — for "imminent and serious threat[s] to the safety of the university community."

According to the Clery Act's 2016 safety reporting handbook, crimes should be considered for notification to the campus community on a case-by-case basis, and those reported to counselors or campus clergy are excluded. 

The Clery Act act also makes clear victim advocates, including sexual assault advocates on campus, are considered "campus safety authorities" and are responsible for reporting Clery Act crimes to university officials.

But Loyola's policy says it doesn't hold its sexual assault advocates accountable for reporting crimes "unless explicitly asked by the student."

The law also states that "the intent of a warning regarding a criminal incident(s) is to enable people to protect themselves. This means that a warning should be issued as soon as pertinent information is available ... even if you don’t have all of the facts surrounding a criminal incident that represents a serious and continuing threat to your students and employees you must issue a warning."

A representative at the Clery Center for Security on Campus was not immediately available to comment.

Counseling Service Full

With all the incidents and the start of the school year, sexual assault counseling services have been in high demand at Loyola and other schools around the city, said Diana Newton, executive director at Porchlight Counseling in Evanston. The center specializes in free counseling for people who have experienced gender-based violence at local colleges.

Newton said in the first nine weeks of school is when students are most at-risk for sexual or gender-based crimes.

Her office receives referrals from Loyola when counselors meet with students who want to talk about sexual violence.

"Now many of our referrals come directly from the college counseling centers," Newton said. "So they'll call and say, 'We've got a student, we're going to send them your way.' So it's almost like a bypass, they fill up so fast they just send them right to Porchlight."

When it comes to being open and transparent in regards to safety on campus, in particular crimes of a sexual nature, it's typical for colleges in general to lack transparency, Newton said.

"I think Loyola and any other school has an absolute obligation to protect its students, and that means transparency at the highest level — answer their questions about safety so they can make their own decisions," Newton said. 

"I think we all just have to stop minimizing and pretending this isn't happening. It's like there's a war going on and we're the Red Cross, we're seeing people come off the battlefield, survivors come to us, and yet the people on the battlefield, the universities and others, they're saying it's not that bad."

"We're saying it is that bad and worse."

For more information on Porchlight or details on how to sign up for services, go to porchlightcounseling.org or call 773-750-7077.

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