Amherst College Response to Assaults Points to Broader, National Issues

After multiple alleged sexual assaults on campus came to light recently, the administration at Amherst College was criticized for how it handled these cases. In the past week, the suicide note of a former student revealed he had been sexually assaulted on campus before withdrawing from the school.

According to a report by the Springfield Republican newspaper, the alleged sexual assault of former student Trey Malone, who committed suicide in Florida in June, was never reported to the Northwestern District Attorney. 

Christopher Krebs, a social scientist with the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina has conducted several studies on campus sexual assault. He says colleges and universities that participate in federal financial aid programs are required to report campus crimes to federal authorities. But campuses with their own police force may not need to report crimes to local or federal authorities.

Krebs says many institutions take a wide-ranging approach to campus crime and sexual assault, but others have what he calls a “cruise ship mentality.”

“They want you to go to school, they want you to pay your tuition, they want you to get your degree, and they want you to go on your way, and hopefully you have a good experience. They don’t want to deal with too many of the problems, or talk about too many of the problems along the way.”

He says besides legal requirements, he believes colleges have an ethical imperative to prevent incidents of sexual assault.

“And then certainly in terms of providing support to victims who do report the crime they’ve experienced, providing services whether they be mental health, whether they be academic-oriented services, things that help victims. And then it’s about identifying perpetrators, and holding perpetrators accountable.”

Amherst has taken several steps in the past year to respond to cases of sexual misconduct, including hiring an outside sexual assault consultant. 

A study conducted by the US justice department in 2007, which Krebs co-authored, shows 19% of women and just over 6% of men are sexually assaulted while in college. But he notes that many incidents of sexual assault are often unreported.