Kentucky colleges not only ones withholding sexual assault files

Much has been written in the last few months about sexual assaults on Kentucky college campuses. No one expects colleges anywhere to be immune. But it appears wherever the college is located, how the universities handle the reports are constant.

(Editor’s Note: The following is an editorial published by the Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.)

When a sexual assault happens on a college campus, the students deserve to know where it happened — at the very least. And by withholding that kind of basic information, which goes against the spirit and the letter of the state’s open-records law, the College of Charleston isn’t doing itself, the victim or the public any favors. Clamming up just fosters fear and frustration.

Yes, a sketch of the suspect in the reported Oct. 27 attack is being circulated. But about all we know is that a dark-haired young white male got into one of four dorms on St. Philip Street north of Calhoun Street about 2 a.m., knocked on a door, forced his way in and sexually assaulted a student, according to campus authorities. And, so far, he’s not been caught.

After making a week’s worth of questionable excuses for failing to make a crime report publicly available, the college released a heavily redacted copy Friday — still with no specific location of the crime. The only part of the narrative intact stated the date and time of the assault and that “the victim reported that she was sexually assaulted … SLED was contacted and is the lead investigating agency.” That’s not good enough.

South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act specifies the location of a crime as a matter of public record to be disclosed. Still, the college’s general counsel cited exemptions to the law, saying the precise location could interfere with the investigation and could compromise the victim’s privacy. An attorney for The Post and Courier has pointedly called that “total nonsense.”

A spokesman for the State Law Enforcement Division, which is in charge of the investigation, said he had no objection to releasing the information but deferred to the college in making that decision. The reason SLED was put in charge of the investigation, however, was to comply with a 2007 law aimed at ensuring crimes on campuses are competently investigated. To simplify matters, SLED should proceed with the disclosure of the crime’s location.

As of Tuesday, the college was continuing to insist on a formal Freedom of Information Act request before disclosing the dorm in which the attack occurred. Ironically, that’s just the type of delay the law was meant to eliminate.

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