We need a law requiring colleges and universities to share information about potential serial campus sexual predators with each other and with law enforcement. The emerging details about Jesse Matthew, the suspect arrested in the disappearance of missing UVA college student Hannah Graham, may be a tragic example of the need for such a law.
Matthew is innocent until proven guilty. But the first known sexual assault complaints against Jesse Mathew were campus sexual assaults in 2002 and 2003 at two of his former universities -- Liberty University and Christopher Newport University. The second university, Christopher Newport University, says it was unaware of the complaint made at Liberty University.
Local law enforcement evidently investigated both of the campus sexual assault allegations but did not prosecute. It is unknown at present whether the local police departments at the two universities ever shared intelligence with each other and to what extent they shared intelligence with the universities.
What we do know is that Matthew has has now been formally charged with the 2005 sexual assault and attempted capital murder of a woman in Fairfax City, Virginia, as well as linked through forensic evidence to the 2010 murder of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington.
Federal and state legislators need to pass a law that will provide a guide for colleges and universities and require them to share information with each other and with law enforcement about campus sexual assaults. Only in this way can dangerous trends and patterns be detected, addressed and prevented. The detection of a pattern requires sufficient data and someone looking at that data. Right now we have neither.
What might such a law look like?
First, it would explain to colleges and universities that the existing privacy laws on the confidentiality of educational records already permits the sharing of information when safety of a student or the community is at stake.
Then it would require the use of that exception to develop protocols for sharing information with other educational institutions and law enforcement about campus sexual assaults and domestic violence.
Second, it would require the colleges to arrange for the timely collection of DNA and other forensic evidence in all cases of suspected sexual assaults. Such collection could be accomplished through cooperation with local hospitals and/or local law enforcement. Many universities already make specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners ("SANE" nurses) available to students who report possibly being sexually assaulted.
Third, it would require law enforcement to not only work with the schools but to work with each other to share relevant information across jurisdictional lines. Predators will not abide by jurisdictional lines. A campus predator may transfer to another school. They might even reapply as a new freshman without revealing prior attendance. They may graduate. The sharing of information must be equally fluid.
Proposed federal legislation like the Campus Safety and Accountability Act, cosponsored by Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla), already contains requirements that universities enter into memorandums of understanding with local law enforcement about their respective sexual assault protocols. More specific guidance about collection and sharing of intelligence and DNA collection could be an outgrowth of this type of legislation.
Serial predators often prey upon the voiceless and the vulnerable -- those who no one misses, no one listens to, and no one care enough about to connect the dots to find a pattern. That a serial predator may have been targeting young college women reflects the tragic consequences of our inattention.