Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Attorney Sam’s Take: Massachusetts Campus Crime Report Seems To Contend That Sexual Assault Is Now “Acceptable” In College

Here is another arena in the Boston area where the hysterical cry of the Lawenorder Bird calls, “Softoncrime! Softoncrime!” The bird, considered a symbol of justice to some is seen as a predatory bird by others. Criminal defense attorneys for example.

The arena is one in which only one-half of its nesting area is visible to the general population. The nesting area is known as “The Administration”. The arenas are educational institutions littered throughout the Commonwealth. Academic in nature, they often do not consider certain real-life considerations. This makes them especially susceptible to public opinion.

And public opinion is almost always in favor of an easy answer to crush the problem of crime.

“Ok. Now what on Earth is he writing about today?”, you ask. “Predatory birds? Nests susceptible to public opinion? Has Sam Goldberg finally lost his grip?”

Debatable. But hear me out.

The Justice Department has released data that purportedly reports that sexual assaults on college campuses rarely lead to serious sanctions. The data is released by the Justice Department. It is based upon a grant program involving ten New England universities and colleges as part of a campus grant program overseen by the prosecutorial agency’s Office of Violence Against Women.

According to the report, the grant recipients, including Salem State College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern, Tufts, and UMass Amherst, report that between 2003 and 2008, 240 alleged assaults occurred. The report further indicates that only 4 of these incidents led to expulsions.

Schools that do not hold perpetrators accountable anger advocates. “It’s a rape; it’s a forcible contact without someone’s consent,” said Colby Bruno, an attorney with the Victim Rights Law Center in Boston.

Yes, that is what rape is.

“It’s punishable by up to 20 years in prison, so why is it acceptable on college campuses?”

Did I miss the memo? Has rape now become an acceptable practice on college campuses?

Surely not…I would hope. Just as I would hope that mere allegations, without further investigation and exercising of Constitutional rights would be enough grounds to ruin a student’s life and expel him or her.

We do still remember the meaning of the term “alleged”, right? Could it be that there is more to this story than the clarion call, “Softoncrime! Stringimup! Softoncrime!”?

Well, some of the Universities seem to think so. For example, Tufts spokeswoman Kim Thurler said the federal statistics do not reflect Tufts’ efforts to combat sex crimes on campus. Thurler said most Tufts students who report sexual assault do not want to pursue discipline, but she declined to provide specific numbers.

She also said sanctions Tufts has taken are not reflected in the Justice Department statistics, such as campus stay-away orders, even though other schools included them in their progress reports.
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“Tufts is committed to creating and maintaining an environment in which all members of our community feel safe and respected,” reads a statement from the university.

All the members? Even the accused-yet-never-tried? Now, there’s a thought.

MIT officials said 10 of the 19 women who reported a sexual assault chose not to pursue campus discipline, the data indicate. An additional four reports were dropped for lack of evidence, the data show.

“We know, in general, it’s incredibly difficult to get victims to come forward, let alone encourage them to pursue charges against their perpetrators on campus or go public and relive the event.”

Other school officials said that, despite their best intentions, the problem of campus sexual assault is extremely complex. There are generally no witnesses or physical evidence to prove a victim’s allegation, they said.

Measuring the number of sexual assaults that occur on campuses is a singularly challenging task, said James Alan Fox, criminal justice professor at Northeastern University.

“Crime is difficult to measure anyway, but rape is the most difficult,” Fox said. “On campus, a large share of the crimes are not stranger rape; they are date rape. I don’t think we’ll ever get a precise statistic. I don’t think colleges know, and I don’t think they’ll ever know. We’ll have an estimate which will be an undercount.”

Hmmm…and then there is the problem, believe it or not, of complainants that are not exactly truthful and would simply prefer to drop the whole thing when the allegations hit the light of day.

Hey, I have an idea! Why don’t we set up a system which, unlike academic institutions, is designed to investigate and try the accused to determine guilt or innocence. That way, if the accused are actually found guilty, the schools can take the appropriate actions…should the guilty defendants not be incarcerated. That way, the schools can do what they are designed for (not investigating and trying rape cases, but teaching), and this other mystery system can do what it is designed for!

What’s that you say? We already have one?

Oh yeah.Well, maybe we can go with that one then.

Sarcasm aside, what happens at school, when it comes to crime, should not stay in school. The schools are not designed to be mini-criminal justice systems sans the need for Constitutional rights. In fact, in the various cases that I have handled in which the academic institutions try to play police, judge and jury, they do not tend to do a very good job.

That is, unless you consider wrecking student lives on very little to no evidence “a very good job”.

The issues the schools and the federal prosecuting agencies complain about such as lack of witnesses and reluctant complainants are issues that prosecutors and police officers deal with daily. They are trained for it. How about letting them deal with the prosecution?

Now back to reality. Despite my tirades, the majority of those in power do not agree with me. And, no, rape/assault is not a permitted activity on campus.

If you are accused of such a crime at school, do not depend on a reluctant complainant or alleged “softoncrime” school officials. Do something real to protect yourself. Get experienced counsel immediately!

Should you find yourself or someone you care about to be facing charges and wish to discuss the matter with me, please feel free to call me at (617) 206-1942.

For the full article upon which today’s blog is based, go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/02/25/no_crackdown_on_assaults_at_colleges/?page=full

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